by Alana Hackman
It was a full house for the nearly two hour long production and helped feed into the performers liveliness. Cal Poly Humboldt’s Theatre Arts Department presented their fall semester play, “The Life of Galileo,” Nov. 3 in the Gist Hall black box theater.
I had yet to attend a play at the black box in my time at Humboldt State, and I believe it has to be my favorite location so far. The stage was smaller and a lot more intimate. It was also a lot easier to hear the actors more clearly.
Immediately, the prop and set design caught my eyes. Working with such a small space, they were able to create multi-purpose prop designs to be used throughout the entire production, and create separate rooms and energies on such a limited stage. Bookshelves of Galileo’s scriptures and studies that doubled as Roman columns — and even circus tents when flipped around — were genius to me.
The use of projections and other media really brought the whole production together. Like a silent film, they projected title cards on the castle walls to set the scene, which was a really creative way to occupy the crowd while stagehands moved props for the following scene.
Even the stagehands added to the artfulness of the play. They were adorned in plague masks and cloaks to blend into the scenes, which kept things interesting during an otherwise liminal transition.
Everything involved with props and set design was very thorough. Hanging planetary orbs and stars above the theater to back the play’s theme was gorgeous, as well as the creative use of such a small stage. A large brick castle with a spiraling staircase was tucked away in the background, and the use of hidden tables and raised platforms allowed for Galileo to easily bop around the stage. The production had no mics and was fully reliant on the actors belting capabilities, which proved successful.
The cast seemed much larger than what I have seen in other productions put on by the theater department. The play itself was more comedic than I expected it to be, through youthful banter and sassy characters like Galileo’s pupil, Andrea, played by Jenny Campos.
Although I will say the humor does seem a bit dry and for a specific audience, which I myself was not a part of. The one-liners seemed reliant on historical knowledge and for more of an older audience. One audience member continuously giggled throughout scenes in the first act while the rest of us remained silent, it felt I was missing something, or maybe we all were.
It wasn’t until the second act that I fully grasped the commentary of the play itself, a humorous meditation on the historical battle between religion and science, following Galileo returning from his near death experience after his scientific discovery that Earth was not the center of the universe.
The lead Galileo (Troy Lescher) had many asides within the show that seemed necessary for witty comments, but I feel they did fall a bit flat.
Although it took a bit for me to get into the play, the second act’s circus scene was fantastic. Actress Penny Dellapelle carried three roles in the production and was phenomenal. Her line delivery was hilarious and she really proved to be a firecracker on stage. Especially in her roles as the ballad crier in the circus performance and the snarky philosopher turning down Galileo’s scientific discoveries. The audience’s giggles also seem to reflect my opinion.
Lake Terre’s playing of the Bursar of the University of Padua was also quite animated and entertaining to watch on stage, especially during his scenes where he was trying to avoid interaction with Galileo. Although, I will say some of his scenes with Galileo kind of skewed the curtain of acting and reality for me.
The acting of all cast members was quality work in nearly all of the scenes. Some of the more busy scenes really shifted the veil of reality and performance for me. Watching a group of callow, college-age actors surrounding the obviously decade-older lead threw me off a little bit, and made the production feel more juvenile and high school-esque than I was prepared for.
All of the characters within the play were seemingly near the same age, so watching a baby-faced Bursar or philosopher scold Galileo, an obviously older actor, made me snap out of the entertaining theater-goer energy quickly.
The production brought a modern commentary on the history versus religion theme. Projections of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates to describe “elite Italian families of the 1500s” was extremely comical. Also projecting images of COVID-19 deniers when discussing the relationship of science with the priest was super timely and the cherry on top of the production.
Overall, the Theatre Arts Department put on a spectacular production and really killed it with The Life of Galileo. Opening night brought lots of energy from the performers and a packed audience. The technical aspects really tightened the show up completely. The production’s ability to play off the recent historical events of science-deniers really lightened the mood in such historically dense productions.