‘Galileo’ at the U.S. Naval Academy Masqueraders

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Presenting Bertolt Brecht’s play, Galileo, is a terrific feat for Director Christy Stanlake of The Masqueraders. It is a production, a spectacle, filled with color, light, and delight – and a serious subject.

After 15 years, this is Stanlake’s final show at the Naval Academy, and possibly one of her more complex. In addition to directing a cast of 22 midshipmen, most playing multiple roles, plus four children, Stanlake had to encourage them, according to the playbill notes: “not to transform into their characters, but to remember that they were performers presenting  a character who operates in a complicated social environment, and thus to keep some distance between themselves and the character.”

Brecht called this form of drama “epic theatre,” presenting an objective point of view and allowing the audience to draw its own conclusions.

The show is produced in the gorgeous Beaux Arts theater of Mahan Hall, lavished with elegant plaster scrollwork and, easily, one of the most beautiful theaters in the region.

So, it was jarring to see the rough-looking back wall of the stage used as an integral part of the set, while a stunning, elaborate proscenium arched high over the stage. The exposed back wall was painted matte black. The word “Galileo” was scrawled boldly in white across the large metal clad barn-style doors, which would slide open to reveal a high, carved wooden door and the ornate main lobby that lay beyond.

Above the stage hung a screen upon which poetic verses announced a summary of each of the 14 scenes, ranging within a timeframe from 1609 to 1642. These were handled by Tim Burnett and Matt McMahon.

If this show has a non-human scene-stealer, it is the novel sets and lavish costumes designed by Richard Montgomery. The costumes, in turn, were skillfully executed by Bonnie Jarrell.

How else do you explain a show in which life-sized papier mache statues of the crucified Christ and Botticelli’s Venus on the half shell appear onstage, along with a gigantic puppet?

There were, easily, over a hundred period costumes, some embellished with lace panels, ruffs, shimmering brocade fabrics and more. The vestments of the Catholic Church hierarchy and nobility contrasted visually against those of the working class. In one scene, great care is taken to place a towering papal triregnum tiara on the head of Pope Urban VIII (John Mendez), a not-so-subtle comment on slavish adherence to showmanship and mythology versus knowledge.

(Donald Trump: Have things changed much?)

Kudos, too, to Stanlake for her decision to ignore a thespian’s gender in casting several roles. Some male mids portray female characters – much to the delight of their classmates seated in the full house on opening night- and two females were male characters.

The actors did not remain on the stage, either. Occasionally, they roamed through the audience. One walked the arc of the upstairs balcony during an emotional scene.

Montgomery’s sets, like Stanlake’s actors, served multiple purposes and were moved about between scenes by the actors.

The focus of the play is Galileo’s use of the telescope and his ground-shaking conclusion that the earth revolves around the sun.

Jett Utah Watson (Galileo Galilei) and Andrea (Megan Rausch. Photo courtesy of The Masqueraders.
Jett Utah Watson (Galileo Galilei) and Andrea (Megan Rausch. Photo  by Malia Meditz.

Jett Utah Watson portrays Galileo Galilei and is onstage in nearly every scene.

Andrea (Megan Rausch, who is the housekeeper’s-Mrs. Sarti’s son), is his assistant and confidant throughout. The “boy’s” mother is portrayed by Oliver Abraira, in his first of six roles (and only female one).

As the show opens, Galileo is in his study in Padua, northern Italy, in 1609.  An astronomer, physicist, engineer, mathematician and philosopher, the Renaissance-era Italian is trying to find ways to earn a living and finance a dowry for his daughter, the emotional and deeply religious Virginia (Clara Navarro).

A visitor describes a new invention he’s seen sold on the streets of Holland, a tube devised by Hans Lippershey using two concave lenses to make far away things look nearer. Hearing that, Galileo sends Andrea to the lens grinder. He crafts a small telescope and claims it as his invention in hopes of making an income from its sales.

Even after his deception is quickly discovered, Galileo continues to develop increasingly larger and more complex variations on the telescope.

Drawing the changing scenery of the night skies as mathematical equations on paper, he soon realizes the sun does not rotate around the earth – and the earth is not the center of the universe or, even, the solar system. Further, the moon is not a small sun, it reflects the light of the sun.

This was serious information in those days, certain to upset the power the Church and nobility held over the lower classes.

Others before him, who had suggested radical ideas conflicting with biblical accounts, had been burned at the stake. He, rightly, feared the same fate if news of his discoveries were not well-received by his noble patrons and the Church hierarchy. Even the coronation of a more open-minded pope would not be enough to save him from their wrath once his discoveries became public.

Jett Utah Watson Watson does a masterful job of portraying the complex, conniving, quixotic Galileo.

 Nicholas Hajek (Senator 1), Orion Rollins (Curator), and Clara Navarro (Virginia). Photo by Photo by Malia Meditz.
Nicholas Hajek (Senator 1), Orion Rollins (Curator), and Clara Navarro (Virginia). Photo by Photo by Malia Meditz.

Will Ashby served as the multi-talented narrator for the show. Playing either a violin or guitar and sporting several costumes and feathered headgear, he appeared onstage at the beginning of each scene to recite the poetry on display on the screen high above him.

He’s the human scene-stealer.

Galileo is a powerful piece of theater, the perfect show for the visionary Christy Stanlake to end her illustrious stay. I wish her the best of luck. We’ll miss you!

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 10-minute intermission.

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Galileo plays tonight at 8 PM, and continues on November 20th and 21st at 8 PM in the Mahan Hall Theater on the Naval Academy Yard. For tickets, call (410) 293-TIXS (8497), or  purchase them online.

The Naval Academy recommends that visitors attending the performances walk through Gate 3 (Maryland Ave.). Visitors may also walk through Gate 1 (King George St.). All visitors 18 years-of-age and older are required to show valid, government-issued picture ID. Drivers without Department of Defense I.D. are not permitted on the Naval Academy grounds. There are public parking lots nearby in downtown Annapolis. Most charge modest fees, but one, near St. John’s College, is free on weekends.

Handicapped visitors with proper decals are permitted through Gate 1 after a vehicle inspection. All bags are subject to search.

CAST:
Oliver Abraira Mrs. Sarti, Old Cardinal, Bellarmin, Town Crier, Cobbler, Customs Officer
Will Ashby Narrator, Senator 1, Monk 1, Ballad Singer
Kennedy Bingham Official, Elderly Lady, Young Lady’s Friend, Clavius’ Astronomer
Tim Burnett Ludovico, Monk 2, Proffessor, Throne Bearer, Pope’s Dresser
Leith Daghistani Sagredo, Federzoni, Cardinal Inquisitor, Giant/God
Shenandoah Daigle Cobbler’s Girl
Moises Diaz Mathematician, Scholar 2, Beggar King of Hungary
Nick Hajek Lord Chamberlain, Scholar 1
Shannon Hill Young Lady, Artisan, Peasant Woman
Chris Hudson Matti the Iron Founder, Fulgonzio the Little Monk, Master of Revels
John “JPK” Kroon Philosopher, Attendant Monk, Christopher Clavius, Official, Devil
Miguel LaPorte Senator 2, Guiseppe, Customs Officer, Professor, Clavius’ Astronomer, Gypsy
John Mendez Fat Prelate, Cardinal Barberini (later Pope Urban VIII), Whirler, Professor
Clara Navarro Virginia, Juggler
Cody Oliphant Secretary 2, Peasant, Throne Bearer
Megan Rausch Andrea, Guest, Rich Wife
Orion Rollins Priuli the Curator, Infuriated Monk, Guest, Rich Husband
Josh Ryan Prince Cosimo de’Medici, Paolo
Matty Ryan Village Child, Luigi
Hugh & Alec Michalski-Cooper Village Children
Jett Watson Galileo
Evan Wray Senator, Secretary 1, Informer
Crew:
Christy Stanlake Director
Joy Solmonson Assistant Director
Shenandoah Daigle Stage Manager
Richard Montgomery Set and Costume Design
Bonnie Jarrell Costume Creator
Jason Shaffer Dramaturg
Jonson Henry Tech Director
Sara Jenkins Assistant Tech Director/ Props
Dave Johnson & Jacob Pittman Lighting Design and Operation
Jean Nathlich Costume Assistance
Elizabeth Brunsman Poster and Postcard Design
Lila Bakke & Chris Hudson Publicity
Evan Wray Programs
Tim Burnett & Matt McMahon Projections
David Ogden Sound Operation

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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Wendi Winters
Wendi Winters is a writer, reporter, columnist and photographer - and a former NYC public relations executive. A good portion of her career has been in public relations - backed by solid experience in fashion retailing, wholesaling, textiles, marketing, advertising, design and promotion. She owned her own successful fashion public relations/advertising/special events/runway show production firm for seven years. As a journalist, she was the first freelancer to bring a journalism award home to The Capital - and then earned two more awards. Since May 2013, Ms. Winters has been a full time staff member at Capital Gazette Communications. Prior to that, she freelanced for the company for twelve years. Including her three weekly columns, she writes more than 250 articles annually. Her writing byline has appeared in Details Magazine, What's Up? Annapolis Magazine, and numerous others. She's been a feature writer for Associated Press Special Features and for Copley News Service. For years, her fashion critic columns ran in the NYC weeklies Manhattan Spirit and Our Town. Since moving to this area in 1999, as a D.C./Baltimore-area theatre critic, her reviews appeared in Theatre Spotlight and The Review. Plus, she was a Helen Hayes Awards nominator for two terms. Mother of four, she continues to be active as a Girl Scout leader and a regional church youth advisor. You bet she can make a mean S'More!