THE FARNSWORTH INVENTIONBy Aaron Sorkin
Director/Set Design - Jeffrey Schmidt
Lighting Design/Multi-Media Design - Amanda West
Costume Design - Meredith Hintno
Sound Design - Marco Salinas
David Sarnoff - Jakie Cabe
Leslie Gorrell, Gifford, & Others - Adrian Churchill
Jim Harbord, Lippincott, Pem's Father, & Others - Jerry Crow
Justin Tolman, Zworykin, & Others - Christopher Curtis
Agnes Farnsworth, Betty, Mrs. Gardner, & Others - Catherine DuBord
Stan Willis & Others - Ian Ferguson
Ridley, Photographer, Swing, & Others - Micah Figueroa
Atkins, Cliff Gardner, Joseph Schenk, & Others - David Goodwin
Harland Honn, Sims, & Others - Andrew Kasten
Lizette Sarnoff, Mary Pickford, Mina Edison, & Others - Lydia Mackay
Wilkins, Douglas Fairbanks, Maitre D', & Others - Joel McDonald
Philo Farnsworth - Alex Organ
Pem & Others - Danielle Pickard
Bill Crocker, Wachtel, Russian Officer, & Others - Aaron Roberts
Young Philo, Young Sarnoff, & Others - Ian Patrick Stack
George Everson & Others - Clay Wheeler
Reviewed Performance: 2/20/2012
Reviewed by Jeremy William Osborne, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Obviously, I loved this production. A historical drama about the invention of television, on the surface, did not sound exhilarating. However, through the incredible work of the production team who created a world to contain the brilliant performances of the actors, everything about Theatre 3's The Farnsworth Invention was exciting and exceptionally well crafted.
Theatre 3's arena space provided some interesting obstacles to the director/set designer, Jeffrey Schmidt. Luckily, Schmidt was wise enough to keep the action on the periphery, and prevented sections of the audience being forced to view the action from behind. I never felt I was missing something because an actor's back was turned. Also, having the large, multi-leveled set pieces in opposite corners of the room gave great places for multiple scenes and quick transitions.
My favorite part of the set was two large screens over the corners. At first I thought they were simply set decoration, painted to look like six foot wide Fresnel lights. But I was quickly surprised and interested to see they were actually rear projection screens. They were used in great effect to show action happening off-stage, in pieces shot backstage and projected simultaneously, and examples of early television images. Almost all images projected on the screen had the low resolution, grainy, black & white aspects seen in old television re-runs and B-movies of the 1950s. Credit for these images goes to Amanda West who also did an amazing job with lighting design.
The lighting for this show was incredible, including small, red, flashing "practical" lights added to the set design, lending detail to the train trellis look of it. A checkerboard of lights that flickered across the test pattern painted on the performance area was surprising and effective in helping break down the stage. Also the use of light from below to highlight penultimate standoffs between Philo Farnsworth and David Sarnoff heightened the tension of the scene. Details like this are what catapult a production into greatness.
The costumes were simple and functional, as clothes in the time period were. The best part of the design was the great "everyman" style the costumes had, allowing actors to change characters with minimal costume changes. An example is Christopher Curtis' transition from Justin Tolman to Zworykin, almost mid-speech, during the court room scene in the second act. The change was as simple as removing a pair of glasses and acquiring a Russian accent.
Sound design, like everything else, was impeccable. The changes in audio quality, depending on whether the speech is live, an old radio broadcast or coming from off-stage, was seamless. The echo of someone working in an empty garage or the "tinny" sound of first generation microphones was recreated beautifully.
The cast was a strong group of professionals who didn't appear to have a weak link amongst them. Often times I felt so engrossed in the action of the play I forgot where I was. Often times, I felt I was actually there as the story played out.
Jakie Cabe was simply brilliant as David Sarnoff, president of RCA in the 1920s. His passion and talent shown through his character. Along with a well played, high class, New York accent I'm not sure he affected or naturally has, his mannerisms with his walking cane and persona gave richness and depth to his character. The character seemed likeable enough, as any captain of industry needs to be, but his ruthlessness slipped through at crucial points as his plans are jeopardized. Cabe demonstrated the frustration in exciting and believable ways.
On the other end of the emotional spectrum was the research team. The moment they received the first broadcast moving image was so genuine, I almost came out of my seat and cheered with them. Playing the genius inventor Philo Farnsworth was Alex Organ who stretched and played out the emotional deep valleys and limitless heights in his character. We saw Philo Farnsworth at his emotional peak, when he actually invented television, and rock bottom after his infant son died from a strep infection. Organ navigated the obstacles like an experienced guide, leading the audience from one place to the next until we couldn't help but trust and go with him.
Surrounding these two was possibly the best cast I had ever seen working together. Danielle Pickard, as Farnsworth's wife Pem, must travel and support the same emotional roller coaster Organ does. She did so with incredible grace and skill. The widest swing in character types belonged to Aaron Roberts who played everything from a Russian officer (speaking what I assumed to be decent Russian) to a visionary business man, Bill Crocker. The entire cast was wonderful and I truly look forward to seeing all of them in more productions.
As with any work like this, some historical accuracy takes a back seat to good storytelling. Farnsworth never lost the patent suit or the appeal from RCA, and was paid royalties for his invention. However, it is true he never became rich for any of his contributions.
Aaron Sorkin's writing was, as expected, full of passion and quick wit. The interpretation of the script by Jeffrey Schmidt and the cast left me wanting more and disappointed it had to end so soon. I didn't even realize two hours had passed as the lights dimmed on the final scene. Do yourself a favor and go see The Farnsworth Invention at Theatre 3.
Theatre 3, 2800 Routh Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Runs through March 17th
Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 2:30pm and 8:00pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm and 7:30pm
Tixs are $40-$50 for the Friday & Saturday 8:00pm performances.
All other performances are $25-$35.
***There is a special "Wallet Watcher" performance Sunday, March 11th at 7:30 pm and a "Hooky Matinee" performance Wednesday, March 14th at 2:00 pm.
For more information, go to www.theatre3dallas.com.