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PlayMakers retells an age-old battle of science and religion with 'Galileo'


Ron Menzel will star as Galileo in Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht, adapted by Joeseph Discher and directed by Vivienne Benesch at PlayMakers Repertory Company. Photo courtesy of HuthPhoto.

Every day people face the daunting fact that they are wrong. People were wrong about the Earth being flat, the Earth being the only planet with water and Pluto being a planet. Not everyone has fully accepted the latter because no one truly accepts large discoveries immediately — and the same can be said for Galileo’s discovery about the true center of the universe. 

PlayMakers Repertory Company is bringing forth the old story of how a man defied church and authority by arguing for science over religion. The play is written by Bertolt Brecht and adapted by Joseph Discher to tell the tale of the astronomer and physicist, Galileo. 

“Galileo Galilei: father, hero, heretic,” according to the PlayMakers website. “Brecht’s dramatisation of the battle between belief and reason considers whether proof matters when dogma reigns.”

The play is not only seen as a tribute to the scientist, but a symbol of political discourse that can be seen in modern-day discussion, said Vivienne Benesch, the producing artistic director for PlayMakers and director of "Galileo."

“The retelling of it, I think it’s really important to look at it as a story and not fact,” Benesch said. “Art is interpretation of truth, right? It’s not the truth. It’s an interpretation of it, but I think that interpreting truths and interpreting history is often the best way to understanding a truth.” 

The production has taken a year to develop because Benesch had to plan and collaborate with other PlayMakers staff to develop the setting, sound and overall atmosphere she wanted the production to convey. The production is unique because it is composed of 16 performers portraying nearly 50 roles across different genders and races.

“What I knew I didn’t want to do was tell the white male historical version of this story,” Benesch said. “Because, again, in terms of contemporary resonances like 'Hamilton,' it’s all of our history. It doesn’t just belong to the figures that made it so.” 

Ron Menzel, the actor who will be portraying Galileo, said in a way, he has been preparing for the part for over 50 years. 

“All performance is at some level is an accumulation of what has gone on before,” Menzel said. “For this particular role, I don’t know the number of hours, but certainly a lot of time.” 

PlayMakers Repertory Company has taken over this production and made it its own in hopes that people will find their own interpretations within the play. It is equally intended to educate and make individuals think about the truths society has come to accept. 

“And I think this experience for the audience," said Menzel. "Of these characters wrestling with these large issues, amazing human discoveries and how inhumane we can be to each other. The combination of those things, in I think a very entertaining story. A story that is certainly worth hearing and a lot of fun to tell.” 


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