"The greatest battle of the 20th Century wasn't on television; it was television," begins Aaron Sorkin's "The Farnsworth Invention." Narrated by the two major combatants, NBC President David Sarnoff and engineering genius Philo Farnsworth, the play takes the audience from Sarnoff and Farnsworth's childhoods to the end of their tumultuous careers.

In between, Sorkin ponders such topics as competition, the power of corporations, intellectual property and the results of sheer tenacity.

Lafayette's Town Hall Theatre presents the Bay Area premiere of Sorkin's fascinating yet wordy work through March 2. As director Joel Roster says in his director's notes, "Thank you Mr. Sorkin for instructing all of us to never assume an audience is dumb."

The dialogue, like Sorkin's popular "West Wing," "A Few Good Men," "Moneyball" and so many others certainly doesn't play down to its audience. But, at times, I could have used a little pandering to my lack of technical acumen, as my brain became a bit muddled with the plethora of scientific detail.

Roster's direction, the company's production values, and the talented cast, however, kept me engaged throughout. Nicely matched, Jeffrey Draper (Sarnoff) and Michael Doppe (Farnsworth) easily bring out their characters' complexities. A large cast, including many fine actors, portray myriad personas, easily slipping from one to another. Chris Hayes designed the versatile set with Chris Guptill's lighting easing the various transitions. Call 925-283-1557 or go to www.townhalltheatre.com.


Advertisement

  • n n

    Don Lockwood may be "singing in the rain" in the beloved Broadway musical of the same name, but Diablo Theatre Company's production is anything but all wet.

    From Dyan McBride's solid direction and Carol Edlinger's glorious costumes to Kelly Tighe's ingenious set and Cheryl Glass' musical direction, "Singin' in the Rain" is an extravaganza of delight. Choreographer Staci Arriaga, who also plays Dora, creates one beautiful stage picture after another, enhanced by Chris Guptill's gorgeous lighting.

    And, as promised, it did rain on the Hofmann stage. Somehow, Tighe managed a downpour that totally soaked Keith Pinto (Don Lockwood) yet allowed him to dance without slipping and sliding all over the stage.

    McBride found a wonderful cast to portray the colorful 1920s citizens of Hollywood, all of who also dance up a storm -- literally! The three leads -- Pinto (Lockwood), Melissa Wolfklain (Kathy Selden) and Ryan Drummond (Cosmo Brown) -- work beautifully together, especially in "Good Morning." While Pinto has appeared several times with Center Rep, this is Wolfklain's first appearance at the Lesher, and with that knockout voice, I hope it will be the first of many.

    But despite the formidable talents of Pinto and Wolfklain, Drummond steals the show as Cosmo. With a body made to dance and an innate sense of comic timing, Drummond makes the most intricate moves look easy. His "Make 'Em Laugh" is a tour de force. Mary Kalita (Lina Lamont) also does a memorable portrayal as the voice-challenged darling of the cinema.

    For tickets to "Singin' in the Rain," which runs through Mar. 2 at the Lesher Center, call 925-943-SHOW or go to www.lesherartscenter.org.

  • n n

    The inspirational journey of two very different men is currently playing out on the Lesher stage as Center Rep presents the Pulitzer Prize nominated "Old Wicked Songs."

    Written by Jon Marans, it tells of a distraught young American piano prodigy who travels to Vienna to study with a master pianist in the hope of reconnecting to his music. Upon arriving, he finds himself assigned to a vocal teacher instead. The arrogant young man does nothing to hide his anger as the two embark on a complicated journey that leaves them both immeasurably enriched. Played against the background of a city still reeling from the horrors of World War II, the play takes on a rich, complicated texture.

    Jessica Heidt sensitively directs, with Patrick Russell (the young Stephen) and Dan Hiatt (the vocal professor) weaving a finely tuned relationship between two unlikely candidates. It's a joy to watch Hiatt as he infuses Stephen with his passion for music, and equally impressive to watch Russell transform from the very uptight young man in Act I to an actual human being by the end of Act II.

    Nina Ball's gorgeous set, so full of details that propmaster Mia Baxter must have worked overtime, also includes a unique sculpture that changes with Kurt Landisman's creative lighting.

    "Old Wicked Songs" continues through March 2. Call 925-943-SHOW or go to www.lesherartscenter.org.

    Contact Sally Hogarty at sallyhogarty@gmail.com.