The set Tina Anderson devised for the world premiere of the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s “And the Sun Stood Still” is ingenious.
* * * HISTORY PLAY
Three large wooden cylinders stand on the Dairy Center stage. When rotated, they either hide or reveal a setting: One houses Bishop Johannes Dantiscus’ desk. Another: a room in astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus’ home. The third shows the inventive contraption the famed astronomer built in order to test his universe-altering theory about the orbit of the Earth around the Sun.
It’s impressively clever for a play about the movement of spherical objects and the meeting of two remarkable men whose unlikely collaboration led to the publication of Copernicus’ “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.”
Best-selling author Dava Sobel’s smartly straightforward play-writing debut recounts the meeting between the aging Copernicus and Georg Joachim Rheticus.
Readers know Sobel as the elegant teller of scientific sagas. And an early version of the play appears in the middle of her history “A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos.”
The younger mathematician arrives from Wittenberg Universitywhere Martin Luther is based in the early 1540s as the rift between the Catholic Church and Lutherans was pitched.
Jim Hunt brings a stillness to Copernicus, now in this late 60s. He is not easily rattled when his friend and sometime patient Bishop Dantiscus natters on about Lutheran conspiracies and Copernicus housekeeper. He is, however, thrown by the arrival of Rheticus.
Benjamin Bonenfant’s Rheticus brims with energy. Copernicus is the Sun to his orbiting enthusiasm.
Bob Buckley’s turn as the oft-hypocritical Bishop is robust, enjoyable and maybe a tad too winking. The title, taken from a verse in the Book of Joshua hints at one of the play’s central tension between the church and science.
Crystal Eisele has a more difficult task: portraying the least convincingly written of the play’s characters: Anna Schilling, whose relationship with Copernicus came under the Bishop’s suspicion.
More persuasive is the play’s notion that even for a brainiac like Rheticus, Copernicus’ theory was hardly a no-brainer. The young man arrives smitten with the elegance of his elder’s calculations but no more prepared to accept them as real than other, less schooled doubters.
Copernicus has a steadfast ally in Bishop Tiedermann Giese. Sam Sandoe delivers a charming turn that makes kin of friendship, faith and reason.
Midwifed and directed by Boulder Ensemble honcho Stephen Weitz, Sobel’s play moves with graceful purpose.
It recounts how a revolutionary idea got its chance to take root despite Copernicus’ reluctance. More, it captures the historic challenges and enduring human affinities that make this world turn.