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Monday, October 22, 2007


In Previews: The Farnsworth Invention

The Farnsworth Invention
Where: Music Box Theatre, Broadway, NYC
Director: Des McAnuff
Playwright: Aaron Sorkin
Performers: Hank Azaria, Jimmi Simpson, Maurice Godin, Michael Mulheren, Bruce McKenzie, Jim Ortlieb, Katharine Powell
Opens: November 14
Visit: Official Site, IBDB, Telecharge

In these early weeks prior to their Broadway opening, director Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys) is making a curtain speech before each performance of Aaron Sorkin's latest paean to television, The Farnsworth Invention. It is a witty, charming speech, intended to disarm: we are still working out kinks, we're changing things daily, etc., etc. And it's a good thing, because two hours later, as you walk out of the Music Box Theatre, it's that speech that keeps you from dismissing the play wholesale.

At this point in its development -- long past its California tryout, early in its Broadway gestation -- The Farnsworth Invention seems miles away from where it should be. All of the excesses of Sorkin's Sports Night, The West Wing, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip are present in this screenplay-turned-stageplay, with few of the strengths of those works exhibited. The text lumbers under its own scientific verbosity; the character development barely scrapes the surface; the mechanical precision of the ensemble (and Klara Zieglerova's steel-girder set) lacks soul and innovation. No one can dispute Sorkin's research, or the vitality of this lost moment in American history. But there's an overbaked intellectualism masquerading as substance, and it's hard to believe they can overcome that obstacle in the remaining previews.

The bait-and-switch of this birth-of-television fable is that The Farnsworth Invention isn't about the birth of television at all. Sorkin's dramatic frame is the stuggle of two men, hayseed inventor Philo Farnsworth (Jimmi Simpson) and RCA titan David Sarnoff (Hank Azaria). Both actors are giving fine performances with minimal help from the script, but their battle over patents lands with a thud on the stage. Their courtroom meeting, a powerfully dramatic moment, is rendered useless when one of the characters admits it never really happened(!!!).

If I were in McAnuff's shoes, I'd edit down the dialogue, ramp up the character development, and most importantly, get Sorkin to commit tangibly to the mano y mano premise. Otherwise, The Farnsworth Invention will, like its historical namesake, only sputter and spark.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I were the director, I'd fire every female actress in this clunker. The actress playing Sarnoff's wife is awful. She supposed to be French but her accent drifts in and out which is distracting. The actress playing Philo's wife is so way over the top you wanna just punch her. Even the actor playing Philo over acts all the way to the back rows. Read the book, Aaron! Sarnoff was a prick and Azaria can't pull "prick" off very well. Brantely will destroy this play.

10/24/07, 6:03 PM  

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