Thursday, February 9, 2017

Starry Messenger at Olympia Family Theater

Published in the Weekly Volcano Feb. 9, 2017
Oliver Garcia as young Galileo and Wendy Hendrickson as his mother. Photo by David Nowitz.
Olympia Family Theater is known for delightful plays aimed at children, but every once upon a time they do a serious adult play such as Animal Farm and Orphan Train from previous seasons. Such is the case with Starry Messenger, the story of the father or modern science, Galileo Galilei — set to music, no less. It is not a musical so much as a play with music, and it is my guess that music was added to make it more entertaining for young audiences that might find the very serious subject of science and the intransigence of authority too ponderous. The youngest cast member is nine years old, and it is my judgement that anyone younger than that was not be able to understand much of the story.
The story covers 70 years in the life of Galileo, beginning with the future scientist as a young boy (played by Oliver Garcia) who dreams of the heavens and talks to the stars and the moon. As a middle age man (Christian Carvajal), Galileo makes important scientific discoveries and is forced to defend them against the religious leaders and entrenched scholars of the day, the 17th century. He discovered proof of the Copernican theory that the earth and all the planets in our solar system revolve around the sun, but the Catholic church stubbornly opposed that and claimed it was a sin not to accept that Earth was the center of the universe. Finally, we see Galileo as an old man (Tom Lockhart) reluctantly giving in to demands of the leaders but holding out hope that the world will eventually come to see the truth of his discoveries and accept scientific proof over religious dogma — a thesis which we cannot help but see as having strong parallels in today’s world.
The writer, Kari Margolis, avoided any direct religious references. The name of God is never used, but is referred to as “the Maker,” and the head of the church, clearly a red-robed cardinal, is called “the Leader.” I can only speculate as to why. The writer might have wanted to soft-pedal potentially offensive religious conflict to avoid controversy or to make the story more understandable to children who may or may not come from Christian families. Intentional or not, avoid specific religious references makes the play seem more poetic, more universal, and in keeping with the dreamlike quality of the set. Carvajal pointed out that Galileo considered himself a devout Catholic his entire life, despite his house arrest. “He simply agreed with Cardinal Baronius, who said the scriptures ‘tell us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.’"
The populous and the philosophers, as well as anthropomorphized stars and moons, are played by a chorus who sing or chant their beliefs and their opposition to what they see as blasphemy from Galileo, often in catchy rhymes that, to me, often sound like a marriage of Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss. They represent the forces of repression in ways that are funny and poetic, not only in the words they use but in their ways of moving in chorus (a choreographer should have been listed in the program, but I can only guess that director Brian Tyrell gets credit for the “dance” of the scholars). Many of Olympia’s more well-known actors can be seen in this ensemble, including Rich Young, Sara Thiessen, Keith Eisner, Tom Sanders, John Lyons Beck, and Amanda Stevens.
There is also a chorus of students played by young actors: Hattie Hummel-Church, Annabelle Samson, Loren Kattenbraker, Serean Kim, Xander Ligtenberg, and Derek Jenson.
The cast is ably rounded out by Ian Forster, Peter Rushton, and Sabrina Husseini.
The music was composed by Daven Tillinghast, lyricist and local jazz guitarist who appears frequently in the band at Harlequin Productions. The beautiful set was designed by Jill Carter and brought to starry light by lighting designer Olivia Burlingame.
Starry Messenger, 7 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, through Feb. 12, $19 adults, $16 military, $13 youth, ,, 612 4th Ave E, Olympia, 360-570-1638

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