“Life of Galileo” an Epic Theater Battle: Science and Reason vs. Fear

BOZEMAN, Mont., September 24, 2018—Just 18 months ago in Bozeman, hundreds of people spent a sunny afternoon walking across town as part of the March for Science, billed as an event to “encourage the free exchange of scientific knowledge.”

Among the crowd, one young woman held up an immaculately printed sign that read, “Facts are stubborn things.”

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In “Life of Galileo,” the 20th-century masterpiece by playwright Bertolt Brecht, the famous Renaissance scientist is obsessed with a view of the heavens by telescope—the first ever—and what it means for the 2,000-year-old concept of the universe with the Earth at its center. Galileo believes everyone, including the all-powerful Church, will understand that facts are facts.

“I believe in the human race,” Galileo says. “If anybody were to drop a stone and tell them that it didn’t fall, do you think they would keep quiet? The evidence of your own eyes is a very seductive thing. Sooner or later everyone must succumb to it.”

Not in Galileo’s lifetime.

In the 400 years since the Church silenced Galileo, it’s clear that science, religion, and politics are still grappling with questions that are far from resolved in the eyes of many, said Gordon Carpenter, director of “Life of Galileo” for Bozeman Actors Theatre. The company’s production of the play opens at the Museum of the Rockies on Friday, October 12.

Whether it be climate change, evolution, vaccinations, or even the shape of the planet amid a resurgence of flat Earth societies, scientific evidence and the “sooner or later” acceptance that Galileo expects haven’t completely embraced in our society, Carpenter said.

And yet, facts are stubborn things.

“Brecht first wrote this play as a reaction to Nazi oppression in his native Germany, and then revised it during the hysteria of the Red Scare in America,” Carpenter said. “Now look where we are today, when black is white and up is down and fear of the truth is rampant. We’re holding marches for science. Even 80 years after Brecht first wrote it, this play is still so relevant to our own time. It won’t go away.”

It’s no coincidence that BAT will stage the play in a museum dedicated to science, Carpenter said. And to further promote the exchange of ideas, on-stage conversations with Montana State University scholars will follow each performance. “We hope to raise questions and create discussions after the audience leaves the theater,” he added. “Why did these people think this way, and how have things changed or not changed?”

Over the course of the play’s 14 artfully structured scenes, an already famous Galileo engages in a brutal struggle for freedom from authoritarian dogma. Unable to resist an appetite for scientific investigation, yet afraid of the Church’s grave threats, Galileo publicly recants but continues to work in secrecy. In the BAT production, a cast of seven plays more than a dozen characters, each espousing arguments with overtones of life or death, heaven or hell.

This particular presentation of the play in the Museum of the Rockies, with a multimedia display of sight and sound and unique casting, would’ve pleased Brecht himself, said Gretchen Minton of MSU’s Department of English. Minton, the production’s dramaturg, explained that Brecht was a founder of the “epic theater” movement in which a play strives not for realism in story, set, and props, but instead presents loosely connected scenes of argumentation and analysis.

“Brecht loved to think dialectically, so what we get in this play is a series of binaries,” Minton said. “Science vs. religion, reason vs. emotion, personal vs. political motivations, theory vs. practice, the state vs. the individual. We have to consider hard questions about these opposing forces, but there certainly aren’t any easy answers.”

Except, perhaps, for the stubborn fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun. “I think just about everyone in the audience can finally accept that one,” she added.

“Life of Galileo” is the first play in Bozeman Actors Theatre’s 2018-19 season, its 10th, dedicated to its late co-founder Dee Dee Van Zyl, who passed away earlier this year. The play features actors Aaron Schuerr, Alex Miller, Colton Swibold, Emily Jones, Hugh Burroughs, Kalen Watson, and Sydney Madill. Shows in the Hager Auditorium at the Museum of the Rockies will run October 12-14 and 19-21, beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $20 for general admission or $10 for students (with ID) and are available in advance at www.bozemanactorstheatre.org/tickets or at the door.

Bozeman Actors Theatre Presents “The Realistic Joneses” by Will Eno

BOZEMAN, Mont., March 24, 2018—Audiences will hear one of the brightest voices in American theater as Bozeman Actors Theatre presents “The Realistic Joneses,” a play by Will Eno that The Guardian named 2014’s “Best Play on Broadway.” The local production opens April 19 at The Rialto in downtown Bozeman.

Eno, a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, has collected critical acclaim and the admiration of actors everywhere for his idiosyncratic ear for language and his dialogue steeped in a signature blend of wit and pathos. The New York Times has called Eno “a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation.”

“From the very first time I read this play, I was impressed by—no, more intrigued by—Eno's ability to write believable and heartfelt dialogue,” said director Joel Jahnke, well-known to audiences as both an actor (last appearing in “Jimmie and Pete” at The Ellen Theatre) and as the longtime artistic director of Montana Shakespeare in the Parks until his retirement in 2013.

“Eno has a way of gently infusing the way we all talk and communicate normally with the heightened sense that great dramatic writing requires,” Jahnke added. “This is a rare gift and what makes this play rise above most others.”

In “The Realistic Joneses,” Bob and Jennifer Jones (played by Mark Kuntz and Cara Wilder) meet their new neighbors, John and Pony Jones (played by Miles Duffey and Claire Barley), during a starlit backyard encounter in a town not unlike Bozeman. In the days that follow, the couples realize they have even more in common than their suburban neighborhood and their shared last names. As their relationships begin to irrevocably intertwine, the Joneses must decide between their idyllic fantasies and their imperfect realities as they wrestle with ponderous questions of mortality and intimacy—often with subtle humor.

“I’m fascinated with how real these characters are to me,” Jahnke said. “They seem from the outset to be people I know, my neighbors, my friends. They’re funny, touching, complicated and troubled, often in the same moment. Couple this kind of writing with a great cast and the result is a captivating evening in the theater.”

“The Realistic Joneses” is the fourth play in Bozeman Actors Theatre’s 2017-18 season and the first since “I Am My Own Wife” sold out all six shows at Verge Theater in February. Mark Kuntz last appeared in the company’s “Copenhagen” and “Fool for Love” to start the season. Cara Wilder, former artistic director and co-founder of the company, last performed for BAT in “Marjorie Prime” in 2017. Claire Barley appeared in BAT’s 2014 production of “The Language Archive,” as well as the 2016 staged reading of another Will Eno play, “Middletown,” in which Kuntz and Wilder also appeared. Miles Duffey, an actor for Montana Shakespeare in the Parks since 2011, most recently playing Happy in Death of a Salesman, is performing with Bozeman Actors Theatre for the first time.

Bozeman Actors Theatre will present “The Realistic Joneses” by Will Eno at The Rialto, 10 West Main St. in downtown Bozeman. Shows run Thursday through Saturday, April 19-21 and April 26-28, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $24 in advance at www.bozemanactorstheatre.org or $27 at the door.

Pulitzer-Winning Play Examines Controversial Transgender Pioneer

Bozeman Actors Theatre and Verge Theater Will Present “I Am My Own Wife” in February for the first time in Bozeman.

BOZEMAN, Mont., Jan. 2, 2018—Actor Ryan Lawrence Flynn recalls his unease about accepting the lead role in Doug Wright’s “I Am My Own Wife,” premiering at Verge Theater on February 2. That’s because this lead role is the play’s only role, split across dozens of parts.

“At first the idea of doing this play was so intimidating,” Flynn said. “But the more I get into the process and explore these characters, it’s actually become quite exciting to lose myself in this incredible story.”

Flynn, known for his versatility on local stages, has played multiple parts before, most notably in the Verge’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes” live radio theater productions of the past seven years. But “I Am My Own Wife,” a Bozeman Actors Theatre production in collaboration with the Verge, is a challenge on a much grander scale, he said.

Over the two-hour play, Flynn portrays not only the main character, a transgender German woman, but also the American playwright-narrator and his newsman friend with a Texas twang—each of them trading dialogue scene by scene.

Then there are the 32 other minor characters, men and women with a variety of accents, appearing throughout the play.

Though it might seem gimmicky as described, it isn’t, Flynn said. “What hits you from the beginning is not the single actor doing voices, but this powerful story of believing in one’s entire self and identity,” he said.

“I Am My Own Wife,” in fact, received critical acclaim and every major award in theater after its 2003 Broadway premiere, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. In the years since it has captivated audiences in productions around the world, said director Kari Doll.

At the heart of the play’s appeal is a profoundly human story of survival, she said.

The play recounts the life of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, born Lothar Berfelde, who survived a violent childhood in pre-war Germany and the Nazi and Communist regimes in East Berlin as a transgender woman. Through interviews and monologues, Charlotte describes her will to endure and even prosper across decades as a famous Berlin preservationist, but not without great sacrifice. When the reunification of Germany reveals that she may have been a secret police informant, even her most devoted admirers have to reexamine right and wrong in the context of brutal oppression.

Von Mahlsdorf, who died in 2002, remains a controversial figure in Germany today—celebrated by some as a transgender pioneer but vilified by others.

“Knowing how difficult life can be for transgender people in this day and age, I was fascinated by Charlotte’s true-life story,” Doll said. “To me, this is a story of survival against immeasurable odds. It’s complicated. Nothing is black and white. But in the end, Charlotte shows us all how elegant determination can conquer hatred.”

As an actor, Doll worked with Flynn on several “Don’t Close Your Eyes” productions at the Verge, so she immediately thought of him when casting “I Am My Own Wife” last year.

“Ryan was the obvious choice for me,” she said. “I was already familiar with his amazing talents and versatility, and after this show audiences are going to share that sentiment.”

Bozeman Actors Theatre and Verge Theater will present “I Am My Own Wife” by Doug Wright as a 2018 Main Stage production at the Verge, 2304 North 7th Ave. (across from Murdoch’s). Shows run on Fridays and Saturdays between Feb. 2 and Feb. 17, 2018, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $14 in advance at www.vergetheater.com and Cactus Records, or $16 at the door.