Kedar K. Adour

Performing Arts Reviews

Isaac’s Eye brings back memories of Carl Djarsai (1923 –2015) “the father of the birth control pill.”

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l-r Robin Gabrielli as Robert Hook, Adam Niemann as Actor, Jeunee Simon as Catherine  andGabriel A. Ross as Isaac Netwon

Isaac’s Eye: Fictional Drama by Lucas Hnath and directed by Oren Stevens. Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter St. (@ Powell), Union Square, San Francisco, CA. (415) 798-2682 or www.custommade.org.

Isaac’s Eye brings back memories of Carl Djarsai (1923 –2015) “the father of the birth control pill.”

One wonders if Lucas Hanath who is the relatively recent darling of the theatrical world was aware of Carl Djarsai’s 2004 play Newton’s Darkness when he undertook to write Isaac’s Eye.  Djarsai’s play in its 2004 world premiere in San Francisco was titled Newton’s Whores and it received a costumed performance in the Theatrical Library in the Civic Center before its London debut. Djarsai was a Renascence’s Man being a world renowned chemist, novelist and playwright.

He insisted that science-in-theatre gets a bad rap onstage either as “Frankensteins or Strangeloves, idiots, savants or nerds, never normal people like myself.” He stated “You can become an intellectual (science) smuggler by packaging the truth in a fictional context. If it’s exciting enough, they’ll (audiences) learn something.”

Lucas Hnath in his play Isaac’s Eye has taken his advice and created historical characters, given them modern dress, idiomatic dialog and mixed up fact with fiction creating a provocative evening. He uses a narrator to introduce the nine scenes, explain pivotal points and at times become a character in the story. It all takes place at the time of the plague in London

Custom Made’s West Coast premiere of this provocative play is being given a whirlwind performance by the four member cast that is informative and disturbing since the two major characters wrapped in gigantic egos are not likeable resorting to underhanded ploys to further their professions. The Isaac of the title is Isaac Newton who is recognized as a scientific genius today and during his lifetime. The other is Newton’s contemporary Robert Hooke who became acclaimed only after his death. It is the overwhelming desire for fame that drives both egotistical men who seem riddled with paranoia.

The narrator, listed only as Actor (Adam Niemann), steps to the apron of the simple but effective set consisting of three huge white writing boards framing the central area furnished with a wooden desk, three moveable metal office chairs and glaring overhead neon lights. Hnath through the Actor tells us that the story that is about to unfold is laced with fabrications as well as truth. Truth will be written of the boards (using erasable magic markers) to separate fact from fiction.

Why would anyone deliberately poke a needle into his eye even when the needle will only penetrate the tear sac acting as a lever to compress the eyeball? That is what young Newton is suggesting to prove his concept of light being composed of particles rather than waves as postulated by the Robert Hooke chief curator the Royal Society.

These opposing theories drive a wedge between Newton and Hooke that is a salient force in Hnath’s intriguing play. When Hooke visits Newton’s rural home to challenge the particle theory Newton is forced to admit that his eye-poking experiment that proves his theory has never been done. Newton takes other means to convince Hooke to get him into the Royal Society. Nothing is off limits in the quest of both to extend their fame beyond the grave. Newton insists that his ideas come directly from God.

Hnath creates a nebulous rural apothocary Catherine (Jeunee Simon) who is sort-of a companion to Newton. She eventually is used by Hooke to further his ambitions. There is a suggestion that Hooke would prefer a rural life but Fate has dictated his eventual life course.

While all the shenanigans unfold, the writing boards are filling up with the “true facts” although the chronology may be skewed including the time frame for hypothetical blackmail plots used by both of the antagonists.

As directed by Oren Stevens the play zips along with over-the-top acting by Gabriel Ross being appropriate to counter the understated performance by Robin Gabrielli. Adam Niemann gives a great nuanced patina to his role as the narrator (and ‘others’).

Running time about two hours including an intermission.

CAST: Gabriel A. Ross as Isaac Netwon; Jeunee Simon as Catherine; Robin Gabrielli as Robert Hook; and Adam Niemann as Actor.

Creative Staff: Director – Oren Stevens; Stage Manager- Genevieve Pabon; Scenic Design – Sarah Phykitt, Lighting Design – Maxx Kurzunski, Sound Design – Ryan Lee Short;Costume Design- Lindsey Eiffert,  Props Design – Stephanie Dittbern; Master Carpenter – Anthony Aranda; Production Manager – Beth Hall

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.

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