Hypothetical question: how would you react to scientific proof that everything on earth is simply an elaborate illusion? Humans, it turns out, are simply a foggy consciousness with no actual physical presence. Rather, we have created a fantasy “world” to live in.
Science fiction? Perhaps. Absurd? Definitely.
Most of us would completely reject such a preposterous notion of our world. That is precisely the situation the 16th century faced when Nicolaus Copernicus reported that the earth is not the center of the universe.
It seems simple now; the sun is stationary relative to the earth, and the earth revolves around the sun. It’s our basic understanding of our place in the universe. But Copernicus brought bad news to his generation; their basic understanding of their place in the universe was wrong.
It’s difficult to imagine now how shocking that revelation was, but Benjamin Bonenfant, playing Georg Joachim Rheticus, gives an excellent interpretation of how crazy he thought Copernicus to be. He’s shocked. He thinks Copernicus a fool. He cannot agree that what appears to be solid ground below his feet is actually spinning at 1,000 miles per hour. For Rheticus, it is such an absurd position that it can’t possibly be true.
The Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC) knows a wonderful story when it sees one. And The Sun Stood Still is indeed a wonderful story that blossomed from a partnership between author Dava Sobel and Stephen Weitz at BETC. Lisa Kennedy at The Denver Post has more information on the creative process here. BETC not only collaborated with Sobel on And The Sun Stood Still; the company has also produced the World Premier.
Sobel tells the story of Copernicus, the Polish Renaissance mathematician (he was also a physician, a canon lawyer, and an economist) whose scandalous theory changed astronomy, and perhaps religion, forever.
For those unfamiliar with Copernicus, his book On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres (1543) maintained, among other things, that the earth was not the center of the universe, and that, in fact, the earth revolved around the sun. Copernicus’ theory flew in the face of what was then common sense: the sun obviously revolved around the earth. Before publishing the book, Copernicus knew he was contradicting the contemporary Biblical view of the universe.
Sobel recreates the drama of Copernicus’ decades of intermittent work on the book, and his decision to publish it just before his death. It’s a complicated and compelling story, none of which I will spoil for those who might see the show.
What I can say about And The Sun Stood Still is this:
- It’s about ideas. You can’t avoid thinking long and hard about the ideas presented.
- It is excellent theater, done well by the entire ensemble.
- It is a weighty look at what, at first, appears to be rather primitive16th century thinking.
- It is as contemporary as any play I’ve seen in a long time. That’s right. The action takes place in 1543, and it’s all still relevant today.
- This script challenges your basic understanding of the world, just as Copernicus challenged the basic concepts of his world.
When I say it’s relevant today, I mean that science is still, for many people, viewed through a religious filter. Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, something between 10% and 46% of adult Americans believe that God created humans in their present form in the last 10,000 years. That a statistically significant portion of the American population disbelieves scientific evidence is disquieting. There is even a theme park in Kentucky based on the Bible’s version of creation, including a display of alleged dinosaurs and humans co-existing.
But to be clear, And The Sun Stood Still is not just relevant because science and the Bible are still often in conflict. There is a vocal minority of climate change deniers who need no religion whatsoever to reject accepted science. Any agenda-religious, political, or philosophical- that isn’t open to new facts will always resist uncomfortable changes. It was true in 1543, and it is still true in 2014.
I’ve spent a lot of ink here on the ideas in the script. I should also mention that the production itself is superb. The set (including 3 revolving set pieces) is engaging and functional. The cast is top notch. Direction here is crucial; the show is mostly talk and little action. Director Stephen Weitz keeps the show moving, all while giving his actors the time and space they need to flesh out the meaty subjects in the script.
And The Sun Stood Still is a theatrical platform for big ideas. It is challenging, thought provoking, dramatic brain food for the audience. I fully recommend it for those whose brains need to be provoked, prodded, and fed on a regular basis. You know who you are.
This show is safe for all ages, but the subject matter may not interest anyone under 16 (that’s a fairly arbitrary guess). Unless you want to do a lot of explaining to your teenager, leave him or her at home.
There is free parking behind the theater and on Walnut Street.
BETC publishes a Food For Thought handout. Pick it up when showing your ticket at the door. It’s a good idea to arrive 10-15 minutes early so you can read up on the history, the religious environment, and the characters in And The Sun Stood Still. It’s a lot of information (six single spaced pages with several illustrations), but it is very helpful for understanding the play in the proper context.
This show closes on April 20, 2014.
Pre or post show dining suggestion:
Classic Colorado pizza a few minutes drive from the theater. The Boulder Beaujo’s, at 2690 Baseline Road, serves Mountain Pies and has been featured on the TV show Man versus Food. The Boulder location offers dairy free cheese (not sure what that is), a gluten free crust, and free charging for your electric vehicle (don’t you wish you had a Tesla?). Happy Hour daily specials vary (Sunday’s feature is a $3.00 Bloody Mary).