Move over, Charlie Brown. Hop along, Frog and Toad. Olympia Family Theater has turned its attention to a new hero: 17th-century scientist Galileo Galilei.
“Starry Messenger,” opening Friday (Jan. 27), telescopes the life story of the pioneering scientist into 75 minutes of brief, action-filled scenes, including five original songs. It illuminates not only some of Galileo’s greatest achievements, but also the power of his determination to look for his own answers at a time when curiosity was discouraged by both society and church.
“It’s entertaining, it’s enlightening, and I think it’s also a wonderful piece of inspiration,” said Brian Tyrrell, the play’s director.
“It’s about the price that you pay for the dreams that you have,” he added. “When you have the courage to believe something and then pursue those dreams, it’s not always easy. But if you stick to it, if you’re willing to deal with the slings and arrows, good things can come.”
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Though it’s based in fact, Kari Margolis’ 1999 play about the first scientist to turn his telescope to the stars has the feel of a fable.
“It is a taste of the Renaissance, and it’s a taste of the science and the complexity of Galileo’s contributions, but it starts with the eyes of a child and the questions that we all ask as children,” said Jen Ryle, artistic director at the theater. “Galileo worked to find answers, and we get to see that process.”
When you have the courage to believe something and then pursue those dreams, it’s not always easy. But if you stick to it … good things can come.”
Director Brian Tyrrell
Three actors share the lead role and sometimes appear onstage together. In the early scenes, the future astronomer is an imaginative boy (12-year-old Oliver Garcia, a sixth-grader at Washington Middle School) who converses with the planets, which appear as puppets of a sort against a starry sky. Later scenes dramatize pivotal moments from the scientist’s middle age (Christian Carvajal) and later years (Tom Lockhart).
“Starry Messenger” is a different kind of children’s theater than the familiar storybook adaptations, said Tyrrell, a retired Centralia College theater professor making his Olympia Family Theater directorial debut.
“A play that deals with 70 years of Galileo’s life is heady stuff,” he said. “It asks of us, young and old, more than most theater tends to ask of us.”
The script certainly asked more of the cast members than they’d expected: It asked them to sing.
“Nobody who’d auditioned knew that it had any music in it,” Tyrrell said. “It came as a surprise.”
The script included lyrics but no score, so the theater commissioned guitarist/composer Daven Tillinghast to compose music for five songs.
Ryle said she’s wanted to produce this show since the theater’s early days, but the large cast, period costumes and complicated set pieces meant she had to wait. “Eleven years ago, we weren’t ready to do it,” she said. “It’s a big project.”
She wound up waiting for Tyrrell, a respected director who’s helmed shows at Harlequin Productions and Capital Playhouse, and whose past experience includes three years at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
“I had been talking to Brian about potentially directing for us when he retired, and he said that given the right project he would be willing to think about it,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is one of the best scripts I have in my back pocket. I need to send him this one.’ ”
Tyrrell was eager for a new challenge, and he saw the importance of “Messenger’s” message.
“This is unlike anything I’ve ever directed before,” he said. “It’s a challenge in the best possible way to make sense of Galileo’s life, to make sense of what he shared with us 400 years ago that still changes how we see the world today.
“We hope our audience will walk away enlightened about Galileo’s life and what he provided us with that we now take for granted, but I think the bigger payoff is encouraging the dreamer in all of us.”
What: Olympia Family Theater presents a play about the life of Galileo Galilei, who played a major role in the scientific revolution.
When: 7 p.m. Friday (Jan. 27), Feb. 2-3, 9-10, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 4-5, 11-12.
Where: Olympia Family Theater, 612 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia.
Tickets: $19 adults; $16 for students, seniors and military; $13 for youths. For the Feb. 2 performance, pay what you can.
Information: 360-570-1638, olyft.org.