Reaching for the truth in the stars

Galileo looks through two lenses and decides to use them to make a telescope. (Submitted by André Reinders)

Theatre St. Thomas opened its 2018-19 season by bringing the discoveries and hardships of one of science’s greatest minds to life.

A Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht unravels how Galileo Galilei, played by Nate Telman, shifted the landscape of physics and astronomy forever.

The audience was encouraged to think critically about the dialogue and to discuss after the play had ended. The director and artistic producer, Robin Whittaker, said that’s what Brecht would have wanted.

Viewers follow Galileo’s story as he attempts to introduce new science before the scientific revolution when the church held a monopoly on knowledge.

Telman recognizes the play’s relevance in today’s society.

“It’s very much a play about authority and the abuse of authority … I think you can see that in any time, just to who’s in power and also how you feel about the way they use it,” he said.

“So with politics being generally tense in the world right now, you can sort of see the similarity about the distress toward the abuse of such strong or absolute power.”

Jason McIntyre who played Sagredo, one of Galileo’s friends and a dulcimer player, agrees with Telman.

“I think it applies to the stage especially well because at the heart of it, it’s a struggle about trying to get truth out of the world … which I think you can see the importance of in the political world today,” he said.

The sun is lowered so Galileo (Nate Telman) can use it as an interactive teaching device. (Submitted by André Reinders)

The production turned STU’s Blackbox Theatre into a planetarium, with a model of the solar system suspended above the stage throughout the show. It was arranged to represent what people thought the solar system looked like at the time, with the Earth at the center, surrounded by the sun and the rest of the planets.

The Earth’s position changes after the shows intermission as Galileo discovers that the Earth moves around the sun. Each planetary model was lit in a way that made it seem like they were in the vacuum of space and were even lowered briefly at one point to interact with one of Galileo’s many teachings.

All of the actors were on stage the entire time, sitting on the sidelines when they weren’t acting in the scene.

Acting in A Life Of Galileo was Telman’s biggest gig yet. 

“This is by far the biggest role I’ve played, and the most in-depth role I’ve played,” he said.

Another key part of the set design was the use of an active camera, its lens projected on the back wall. It was held by various characters throughout the production to provide the vantage point of those who Galileo teaches, but also important viewpoints that the audience wouldn’t normally be able to see on stage. When it wasn’t in use, the camera was fixed on pages that detailed each significant event in the production, from Galileo’s discovery of the telescope, to the Copernican System and his many inquisitions.

This is Nolan Goguen’s (right) first production with TST. (Submitted by André Reinders)

Telman is stoic in his portrayal of Galileo, bringing sound confidence to the character through his many battles against intellectual tyranny.

He was joined on stage by his loyal followers led by Andrea Sarti, played by Sage Chisholm. Telman and Chisholm played well off each other as the latter’s character kept the former’s faith alive as Galileo is constantly frustrated by how those refuse to see the true value in his research.

All actors were able to see each other’s performance since everyone was on stage the whole time. Sagredo, played by McIntyre, admired Telman’s performance.

“It was a momentous task, because his character is practically always on stage and always monologuing about the slopes of the moon, how the light hits it and complicated scientific details like that,” said McIntyre.

Virgina (Middle: Telina Debly) is Galileo’s daughter. (Submitted by André Reinders)

“I think he was tuned in to the political importance and had a lot of respect for being given the lead and the importance of the production as a whole.”

McIntyre’s performance was just as intriguing, as he embodied the fear of social backlash from many of Galileo’s supporters in his role.

Chandler Gard also shined in his role of Father Christopher Clavius, and other comic relief roles, with his manic energy.

A Life Of Galileo teaches all who watch it that in the battle for the loudest voice in the room, science will triumph. Through the tragedy of Galileo, audiences will not only be inspired, but prompted to fight the resistance of facts in our present world.

Meanwhile, Telman said after he gets some rest he just wants to keep doing theatre.

“I’m ready to sleep a little bit, but it’s also going to be sad because I love the theatre,” he said.

“I love working with these guys, it’s a really good crew. It’s the most fun I’ve had on a show.”

With files from Jerry-Faye Flatt