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PlayMakers Rep Presents Two Distinct "Slices" of the Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht

PlayMakers Rep will stage Bertolt Brecht's <em>Life of Galileo</em>, adapted by Joseph Discher and directed by Vivienne Benesch, on March 5-10 and 12-17 in the Paul Green Theatre in UNC-Chapel Hill's Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art (photo by HuthPhoto)

PlayMakers Rep will stage Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo, adapted by Joseph Discher and directed by Vivienne Benesch, on March 5-10 and 12-17 in the Paul Green Theatre at UNC-Chapel Hill (photo by HuthPhoto)

Die Religion … ist das Opium des Volkes (Religion is the opiate of the people)”
Karl Marx (1818-83) —

Cutting to the chase, PlayMakers Repertory Company’s current offering, Life of Galileo, is definitely worth seeing. PRC producing artistic director Vivienne Benesch directs Joseph Discher’s adaptation of Marxist East German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s 1943 play, which offers two distinct “slices” of the life of Italian astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).

Slice #1: Through use of the newly invented telescope, Galileo is able to make closer observations of the universe. An ecstatic Galileo shares the treasure of his newfound knowledge, which is initially well-received.

Slice #2: The discoveries (and resulting theories) of Galileo challenge the accepted view that the Earth is the center of the universe, thereby threatening the power that the authorities (religious and secular) hold over the minds and the lives of the people. Predictably, Church and State react. In a very significant line, Galileo’s work is referred to as “an apple from the Tree of Knowledge” (and we all know the consequences of taking a bite of that apple).

Bertolt Brecht’s script emphasizes the subjectivity of human existence at every turn. For instance, to make sure that we do not over-idealize Galileo, Brecht makes quite a big deal of the fact that, while the telescope had been invented in Holland, Galileo takes the credit for its existence and uses “his” invention for the sake of financial gain. (However, he did so for the sake of further pursuit of science, so maybe it’s okay, right?)

Brecht makes a significant point/counterpoint maneuver in one of the play’s most touching scenes — Galileo’s conversation with “The Little Monk.” Much of the play is dedicated to showing the self-interested reactions of the church “powers” to the implications of Galileo’s work, but this scene deals with the concerns of an earnest “Everyman” as the monk pleads with Galileo to refrain from disseminating his teachings, because of the devastating effects that doing so would have on his “ordinary farmer” parents’ image of themselves and, as a result, on their ability to “carry on.”

Galileo’s decision to publish his work in Italian (as opposed to scholarly Latin) in order to reach “the masses” parallels the determination of religious dissenters to make the Bible available in the language of “the masses,” once again highlighting just how threatening actual knowledge can be to the strangle-hold imposed on the minds of people who are slaves to institutional “belief.”

The 16 actors that make up this cast easily portray the play’s nearly 50 characters — a tribute to their acting skills and the magic of the costumes designed by Grier Coleman. Ron Menzel portrays the title character’s wide range of emotions and attitudes with aplomb. His chemistry with fellow actor Rishan Dhamija in the above-mentioned “Little Monk” scene stands out.

Also impressive is Alex Givens as Andrea. When we first meet Andrea, he is 12 years old; Givens shines first as he creates the character’s youthful exuberance (and clumsiness) and then again when Andrea appears as an adult, concerned with the fate of Galileo.

Jim Findlay’s scenic and projection designs create a modern reality in which these 17th century events take place, thereby stressing the universality of the play’s themes. Along with the costuming, these supply a visual feast.

In an interesting touch, choreography by Tracey Bersley/ combines with movement coaching by Thiago Felix to create an entertaining interlude that can only be described as a music video that furthers the plot and helps accentuate the themes during the second act.

From the Department of Picky-Picky: The play is quite interesting, entertaining, and thought-provoking; and the pace is brisk; however, it still feels overly long. We recommend a good night’s sleep the night before and lots of coffee.

SECOND OPINION: March 4th Talkin’ Broadway: Raleigh/Durham review by Garrett Southerland:; March 3rd Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks:; March 3rd Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) review by Robert Keener: and Feb. 18th preview by Abbie Ashford:; Feb. 27th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods:; and Feb. 23rd Chapel Hill, NC WCHL/ interview with director Vivienne Benesch, conducted by D.G. Martin:

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents LIFE OF GALILEO at 7:30 p.m. March 5-8, 2 and 7:30 p.m. March 9, 2 p.m. March 10, 7:30 p.m. March 12-16, and 2 p.m. March 17 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15-$48 ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), with discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel, except $15 general admission ($10 for UNC students with ID) on Community Night (Tuesday, March 5th).

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY,, or

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529),, or

SHOW: and

2018-19 SEASON (Shifting Ground: Theatre That Moves):

PRESENTER:,,,, and

PRC BLOG (Page to Stage):

VENUE: and


NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.

NOTE 2: There will be an All-Access Performance, with sign-language interpretation and audio description by Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5th.

NOTE 3: There will be FREE post-show discussions, with members of the cast and creative team, following the show’s 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 6th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 10th, performances.

NOTE 4: There will be a Family Fun Matinee, starting at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 9th, and including special activities created in conjunction with Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.

NOTE 5: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 9th (for more information, click here).

NOTE 6: The Psychoanalytic Center of the Carolinas will sponsor a FREE post-show Mindplay psychoanalytic discussion after the show’s 2 p.m. Sunday, March 17th, performance.


Galileo Galilei (Italian astronomer and mathematician, 1564-1642): (Encyclopædia Britannica) and (Wikipedia).

Life of Galileo (Leben des Galilei) (1943 play): (Encyclopædia Britannica), (Joseph Discher’s web page), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

Bertolt Brecht (Marxist East German playwright and poet, 1898-1956): (Encyclopædia Britannica), (PRC bio), (International Brecht Society), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

Joseph Discher (adapter): (official website), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Internet Movie Database).

Vivienne Benesch (PlayMakers Rep producing artistic director): (PRC bio), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Facebook page).


Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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