Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Review: USF play about Galileo's life is inconsistent but generally worthwhile

TAMPA — A 70-year-old play about a scientist who lived 400 years ago shouldn't seem so timely.

Bertolt Brecht's Life of Galileo offers a fairly straightforward biography of one of history's most gifted thinkers. His discoveries and insights enlightened the world but aroused the ire of the Catholic Church, which accused him of heresy for daring to suggest that the Earth rotated around the sun, and was only one of several planets that did so.

The parallels to contemporary political discourse about religion vs. science are hard to miss. Galileo plainly sees through his telescope that moons rotate around Jupiter and that Venus appears in phases, like our own moon. Because those observations are at odds with traditional biblical interpretations, church leaders say the telescope is wrong.

The current production from the University of South Florida's College of the Arts is inconsistent but generally rewarding. A few excellent performances and some stunning design work overcome the weaknesses, which include some unfortunate casting.

Perhaps the best indication of the production's overall success is that its length — over three hours — isn't uncomfortable.

One obvious highlight is a sturdy lead performance by Jack Holloway. He's on stage for almost all of the play and never falters in his portrayal of Galileo as a man at first enthralled by the pursuit of knowledge, increasingly frustrated by the inadequacy of logic to permeate superstition, and finally shamed by what he perceives as his own cowardice. Holloway's physical being appears to change as Galileo's downfall progresses.

Holloway is one of the Tampa Bay area's top professional actors, and many of the student actors in the large cast fare pretty well when they share scenes with him. One obvious standout is Caroline Johnson as Galileo's daughter Virginia. Johnson's performance is self-assured and charismatic but tastefully understated.

The 20-person cast and a shortage of men in this year's crop of actors in the USF Theatre Department combined to create the show's most glaring flaw: Director C. David Frankel had to cast young women in many male roles. It's a major distraction and at times makes the proceedings kind of hard to follow.

Frankel's direction is steady but fluid. Brecht's script blends some unusual elements (a chorus that appears periodically and almost mocks the characters in a nursery-rhyme cadence) into the play's general realism. The juxtaposition never seems jarring. And Frankel lends an overall quietness to the production and allows the history-changing events and the personal melodrama to unfold subtly.

Work from two student designers adds immeasurably to the production. Shannon Dunbar's industrial, almost futuristic, set is an odd but effective counterpoint to the ancient storyline, and Kristen Geisler's lighting design is moody, complex and often quite beautiful.

Another highlight is the lush costume design by faculty member Marilyn Gaspardo Bertch.

Galileo is the first production in a USF theater season devoted to plays about science. Also scheduled are David Auburn's Proof and Karel Capek's R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots).

Marty Clear is a freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. Reach him at


Life of Galileo

Life of Galileo runs through Sunday in Theatre II at the University of South Florida, 3829 W Holly Drive, Tampa. 8 p.m. today and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. About 195 minutes. Advance tickets $8 for students and seniors and $12 general admission; day-of-show tickets are $10 for students/seniors and $15 general admission. Group rates available. (813) 974-2323 or

Review: USF play about Galileo's life is inconsistent but generally worthwhile 10/06/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 6, 2011 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Democratic ad: Adam Putnam is 'silent' on GOP health bill


    Democrats are trying to attach Adam Putnam to the GOP’s unpopular plans to replace Obamacare.

  2. Competition and uncertainty keep New Port Richey's Steve Miklos hooked on power boat racing


    HOLIDAY — If Steve Miklos could have it his way, every power boat race would take place in rough water. He finds the turbulent conditions calming, an attitude he's developed during a professional power boat racing career that spans hundreds of races dating back to 1991.

    Steve Miklos, the throttle man and owner of the No. 51 Sun Print Racing boat, poses at his shop in Holiday. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  3. Did a Cubs player give Trump the middle finger during a White House visit?


    President Donald Trump welcomed former Rays manager Joe Maddon and the World Series champion Chicago Cubs into the Oval Office. But it was a photo that surfaced later that got much of the attention on …

    President Donald Trump welcomed former Rays manager Joe Maddon and the World Series champion Chicago Cubs into the Oval Office. But it was a photo that surfaced later that got much of the attention on social media.
The photo, taken by Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times, purportedly shows outfielder Albert Almora Jr. flipping a bird while standing just feet from Trump as the other players were gathered around his desk. [Gordon Wittenmyer via Twitter]
  4. Florida's death row population lower today than it was in 2005


    The last person executed in Florida was Oscar Ray Bolin on Jan. 7, 2016, making him the 92nd person to be executed since Florida resumed capital punishment in 1979. The last condemned inmate to join death row , convicted double-murderer Craig Wall of Pinellas County, arrived on June 6, 2016.

    The execution chamber at Florida State Prison
  5. Adele may never tour again: read her emotional note


    Adele is wrapping up a monster world tour, and it sounds like it took a lot out of her. 

    Adele left this note in her tour program, and fans posted it on Instagram.