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L.A. Theatre Works: The Life of Galileo

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Sneaking into my seat in the Skirball Center’s small auditorium, I look around to notice that I may be the youngest person in the audience by about thirty years, with the exception of a painfully bored looking teen two rows back.

“The truth,” the emcee is saying in a rich British accent as he introduces the show, “can be inconvenient.” Applause breaks through from the crowd at his tie-in to pop culture. He’s introducing The Life of Galileo, a play by David Hare, the imminent performance of which will be recorded for radio. The Skirball Center is playing host in the 2007-2008 season to a series of plays put on by L.A. Theatre Works, which then air locally every Saturday night from 10pm to midnight on KPCC.

The fourteen-person cast walks onstage one by one, clad mostly in serious-actor black. They take their seats across the back of the stage, water bottles perfectly spaced at their feet, and Stacy Keach, playing the title role of Galileo Galilei, walks up to the center microphone to begin.

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Beginning with Galileo working comfortably from home, the play details his struggles to prove the ideas of his predecessor Copernicus, which suggest that the earth revolves around the sun. Upon doing so, he learns quickly that the findings are contrary to the teachings of the Church. Galileo then has to decide whether to stand up for reason, which he claims to believe in without exception, or to give way to the desires of the Church.

There's something undeniably cozy and old-fashioned about radio theater, in a romanticized Roosevelt-era sort of way. It's fascinating to see the restraint the actors show as they contain their instinct for physical movement, channeling it instead directly into the microphones through their voices, enunciation, and inflection. I'm half watching, half imagining, as if I were sitting in my own living room listening to the show.

And of course, there's no ignoring the correlations between the story of Galileo Galilei and the current political battle between science and religion. "The issues of the play," says Keach after the show, "are universal and timeless."

The play serves as a strong reminder of that struggle between faith and reason, and raises the critical question of who decides, in the end, what the "truth" will be. There may be no better reason to support efforts like that of L.A. Theatre Works to reach as many people as possible through theater, which may have the power of opening minds to the issues of the day.

For reservations or information about upcoming shows, call the L.A. Theatre Works Box Office at 310-827-0889 or visit www.latw.org.