The Rogue Theatre is in search of truth.
“This whole season, we’re really exploring this idea of what is truth and what is not truth, and the powers that try to extinguish or twist the truth,” says Cynthia Meier. The co-founder of the theater is directing the season opener, Bertolt Brecht’s “Galileo.”
Brecht’s play is based on the life of the astronomer and philosopher Galileo Galilei. Galileo studied the heavens and came to the conclusion that the sun is the center of the solar system and that the Earth revolves around it. The Catholic Church insisted that the Earth was at the center and everything revolved around it. It called Galileo’s theory heresy and it demanded he recant. The threat of torture and isolation was too much; he recanted (supposedly he muttered “and yet it moves” right after).
Ah, but his subsequent writings gave strong hints that he did not give up his science-based theory. Eventually he was called before the Roman Inquisition, found guilty, and sentenced to house arrest.
He had the facts; the Catholic Church had the belief. This was early in the 17th century; the church generally ruled, and rarely with a kind hand. (In 1992, the Vatican finally relented and said Galileo was correct — the sun is at the center of the solar system.)
Brecht keeps the facts about Galileo’s discoveries and subsequent problems with the church, but his imagination filled in details about the astronomer’s life.
And he packed the play with a large number of characters: more than 60. The Rogue has a cast of 14, one of the reasons masks are used liberally in the production.
“It helps distinguish the characters,” says Meier.
The masks also help transport audiences back to Galileo’s time, she adds: They are based on Italian Renaissance portraits. “They really capture the history and locale of the play.”
But what they do most effectively is echo the theme of the play and Rogue’s season.
“The play is about what is truth and how power tries to hide the truth,” says Meier. “The masks create the feeling of what’s real and what’s not real.”