- OnStage Connecticut Critic
NEW CANAAN CT - There has always been the stigma that community theatre will never be as "good" as professional theatre. While this statement is ludicrous, it's often accepted as truth. However, one should only look at the Town Players of New Canaan's production of "The Farnsworth Invention" to see that the above statement is untrue.
With creative staging and her usual cast of actors, director Julie Bell Petrak presents a visually and intellectually superior production to anything else I've seen on a local stage this season. Even more commendable, is that Ms. Petrak and her cast, elevate what is obviously Aaron Sorkin's weakest script. Where Mr. Sorkin lacks in cohesive relationships and character development, this production rises above the text.
For those not familiar with the show, Samuel French describes it as this,
"It's 1929. Two ambitious visionaries race against each other to invent a device called "television." Separated by two thousand miles, each knows that if he stops working, even for a moment, the other will gain the edge. Who will unlock the key to the greatest innovation of the 20th century: the ruthless media mogul, or the self-taught Idaho farm boy?"
Now it must be mentioned that this play has caused quite a bit of controversy due to its historic inaccuracy. But unless you're a scholar in the history of television, I doubt it will change your opinion. I certainly didn't know the true story until I researched after I saw the show.
While Sorkin fans can certainly take much glee in his sharp sense of dialogue, what's obvious is that this play isn't meant for the stage. With the amount of locations, characters, etc, it's clear from the script's restlessness that this was meant for either a film or the very invention the show is about. I found out later that it was in fact adapted from a plan to have it as a TV mini-series.
It's clear that with a script like this, a masterful cast is needed. For this show Mr. Petrak assembled an all-star team of actors from her previous productions, with a couple of new faces mixed in. By seeing the work of these actors in previous Julie Bell Petrak productions, high expectations are set, and I'm glad to report that this cast exceeds every single one of them.
Eric Regan is an actor who is just getting better and better each time I see him. As the tragic title character, Mr. Regan displays the struggles of his character's personal demons in a fully realized performance. As his adversary, David Sarnoff, Eric Dino once again expertly fills Ms. Petrak's combative role. Mr. Dino walks Sarnoff on a fantastic line of likability and makes some very wise choices with the character.
And while the plot of the play is often centered around the business of men, the production finds most of its emotional core, with its women. Kristin Gagliardi is breathtaking as Farnsworth's wife, Pem. The chemistry between her and Mr. Regan is palpable and genuine which provides real depth in this fast paced show.
The rest of the cast is excellent as well. Often they are playing multiple characters and each one commits fully which is refreshing to see.
Only aiding this incredible production is the scenic design from Robert Doran and lighting from Jeffrey Klein. When design adds to the tension and tone of a piece, that's a very good thing and the work here is fantastic.
The fact of the matter is this, right now the Town Players of New Canaan are producing the very best when it comes to community theatre drama. With bold and creative direction, strong acting, eye popping design, "The Farnsworth Invention" rivals only their previous production of "Other Desert Cities" as the best play I have seen this year. Do not miss this show.
The show runs through May 21st. For tickets and info, visit tpnc.org