by Lynn Geyer
If you’re just old enough to collect Social Security, chances are you have never known a world without television.
What an invention! TV brings news, entertainment and friendship right into our homes virtually every hour of any day.
Quick! Who invented television? Was it Alexander Graham Bell? Maybe Thomas A. Edison? How about a young Idaho farm boy named Philo T. Farnsworth? Now you’ve got it!
Not to change the subject, but what makes for good Theatre? Is it the script, the actors, the technical work or even the director?
The answer is simple: it’s all of the above!
The current production at The Lakewood Playhouse is the story of that Idaho farm boy turned into an engrossing play by Aaron Sorkin, which he aptly titled “The Farnsworth Invention”
Tells it all, right? Just wait – as the great man said many more times than once, “You ain’t heard nothing, yet!”
Sorkin’s expository rendition of how television was invented – and stolen – is an enthralling piece of theatre. His words are clear and concise without minimizing the subject.
Director John Munn’s cast brings these words to the audience with honesty and understanding. There are 22 thespians in this production playing more than 70 different parts.
Occasionally the actors allow roles to slide into each other, but it really doesn’t matter; the main characters are well defined and they deliver the message superbly on a complicated, simplistic set designed by Brett Carr. Carr uses wagons to manipulate the stages with actors as property people arranging various pieces of paraphernalia to indicate the 33 locations this intimate theatre holds.
Alex Lewington has given the audience authentic costumes of the era spanning from the late 1920s to sometime just after WWII. Deborah Armstrong-Evans is the lighting designer.
Nathaniel Quinn is the Stage Manager; he keeps the large cast quiet back stage and ensures they make their entrances on time all the while running the show.
Proving the old axiom, “There are no small parts, only small actors,” this production is resplendent with big actors in small parts; namely: Syra Beth Puett, a consummate actor usually appearing in justly deserved leading roles, is seen in a couple of very short scenes as Farnsworth’s wife’s mother and Edison’s wife. Likewise, Joseph Grant has stepped away from the limelight in order to play the pivotal role of Gorell and others.
John Pfaffe gives a wonderful performance as Farnsworth’s somewhat mystified science teacher in Act One who returns in Act Two showing his age through mannerisms and voice alone.
Robert Puett and his wife Terri Elliott Puett make a charming couple as Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford…and others.
That “and others” is frequently seen in the program. With such a large cast and with so many parts, it is difficult to name each actor or character. However, this is an ensemble cast and it would be remiss to exclude their names when it is the “and others” who make this production so solid.
Greg Slease plays Young Farnsworth and Joseph Allegro is Young Sarnoff; Jacob Tice and Addison Kelly play Russian soldiers; Ernest Heller is Crocker; Leigh Duncan is a Secretary; Katelyn Hoffman is Farnsworth’s wife Pen; David Phillips is Harbord…and others!
The other others include Jeffery Weaver, Jed Slaughter, Gabriela Aleman, Dylan Twiner, Melissa Thayer, Matt Garry and Christopher S. Cantrell.
All of these “others” not only turn in excellent performances, they glue the show together with their individual moments in the sun.
There are three yet to be named.
Gabriel McClelland turns in a stellar performance as David Sarnoff, the president of NBC – the man who referred to television as a “vast wasteland” and wanted to keep it out of the commercial world.
Niclas R. Olson is equally astounding as Philo T. Farnsworth, the holder of 165 patents, mostly in radio and television.
These two highly talented actors turn in tight performances, bouncing banter off each other like a handball, leaving the audience on the edge of their seats wondering who will prevail.
Who is the third yet to be named? The Director, John Munn. Munn makes his directorial debut as the newly appointed Managing Artistic Director of The Lakewood Playhouse proving the Board of Directors for the Playhouse made the proper choice. Munn has always been a good director but with “Farnsworth,” he has surpassed even himself. He moves the actors about the stage flawlessly and has honed each interpretation to perfection. With this large of a cast timing is of the essence – not to leave the audience waiting – not to allow time for anticipation of the next scene to lessen but to keep the pace virulent and alive. Munn has achieved this expertly. Kudos!
“The Farnsworth Invention” continues at The Lakewood Playhouse in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, next to the Pierce Transit Depot, through March 25, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. There is a Pay-What-You-Can night scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday, March 8 and an Actors’ Benefit performance at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 17.
For reservations or more information, call the box office at (253) 588-0042 or go online to www.lakewoodplayhouse.org.
Go to The Lakewood Playhouse and see the history of television unfold in “The Farnsworth Invention!” If you don’t, you’ll just be stuck sitting at home and watching – television!