I have come to expect the unusual and the entertaining from BETC, and this world-premiere work does not disappoint. It’s rare to find a show that uses a Renaissance thinker as a hero.
In the first scene, we are introduced to Nicolaus Copernicus not as an astronomer, but as physician to the Bishop of Warmia, in Poland—a position he held for the five years prior to his death in 1543. It is only with the arrival of Rheticus, a mathematics genius who has traveled long distances to study with the most learned scholars of the time, and who greets Copernicus with great respect and honor, that we begin to understand the importance of his work. Rheticus is eventually convinced of the validity of Copernicus’ radical theory of heliocentrism—that the Earth revolves around the sun instead of the other way round. Church doctrine at the time held that man was God’s greatest creation, and therefore the Earth, as the home of man, was the center of the universe. All the other planets and the stars revolved around the Earth and existed because of the place of Earth in the celestial scheme of things.
However, unless the audience member has some knowledge of the back story of Copernicus, his struggles to survive in a religious community that could ban or execute him for his hypotheses, and his reasons for removing himself from the scientific community, it’s difficult to understand why he is where he is. A delightful scene between the two intellectual giants, during which Copernicus tries to explain how the Earth is revolving at high speeds to an incredulous Rheticus, reminds one of a grade-school science lesson. The things we today take for granted were unheard of before this time.
The set designed by Tina Anderson is brilliant. Three tall towers rotate to reveal the different locales of our hero’s life—the Bishop’s office, Copernicus’ living quarters, and a room that contains the machine he has constructed to explain his theories. The multiple rotations of these towers reflect and reinforce Copernicus’ “revolution”-ary theories. The lovely costumes by Katie Horney effectively suggest the differences between the richness and dominance of the Church and the common folk.
Jim Hunt brings his weight as an actor and his personal humanity to the role of Copernicus, endowing him with both a dignity befitting his education and a humility denoting his kindness. As Rheticus, Benjamin Bonenfant becomes a wide-eyed student who moves from doubt to belief. They are strongly supported by Crystal Eisele as Copernicus’ live-in lover disguised as a housekeeper, Bob Buckley as the Bishop who condemns his theories and lifestyle, and Sam Sandoe as his clerical defender.
Theater-goers “on the street” are calling this a “smart play” because, like METAMORPHOSIS, it delivers a message and a history lesson in a subtle way—sort of like the History Channel on stage.
WOW factor: 7.5