Fort Greene’s Irondale Ensemble is presenting a modern adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s classic The Life of Galileonow set in 2019 to reflect on today’s social and political climate.

In a battle between his scientific principals and struggles with the Catholic Church, Brecht’s The Life of Galileo follows the legendary astronomer and physicist Galileo as he worked to prove the Copernican theory that the sun, not the earth, is the center of the universe. Galileo’s findings and claims challenged the Church’s omnipotent religious rule. 

Accused of heresy and brought to trial, Galileo forcefully recanted his findings and was confined to house arrest for the rest of his life, forbidden to continue to write further about a moving earth or a stationary sun.

Brecht originally wrote this piece over 80 years ago, and then rewrote it again twice more to reflect the morality of society and the political shifts that were happening in real time, from Nazi Germany to the Atomic bomb and beyond.

The Life of Galileo. Photo courtesy of Irondale Theatre

“When we started working on this play, we saw it as being about the rejection of science by fundamentalism,” said Jim Niesen, Irondale’s artistic director. “In really living within this work during the rehearsal process, the themes are in line with what we struggle with today in our society—raw power, the persecution of those with differing beliefs, the quest for truth in the face of outrageous lies and a contempt for humanity if you can’t make money from it. That’s heavy stuff.”

Now, Irondale has adapted this original 42-actor play into a work with four actors who –playing 20 roles — explore how Brecht might have rewritten this play today. Set in 2019, the play tackles what our society is facing now: A new political system coming into power that creates an incredibly polarized political climate, coupled with the clash of fact and fiction, science and myth.

Part circus, part vaudeville and part cabaret with soundscapes of old jazz, Bella Fleck and even The Clash, this is Brecht for a new audience, the Irondale team said. 

Galileo is the first of a three-part Bertolt Brecht series Brecht in ExileMother Courage and Her Children and The Good Person of Szechuan will be presented over the next few seasons.

Immediately following their spotlight on Brecht, Irondale will co-present the U.S. premiere of The Dog, The Night and the Knife by German playwright Marius von Mayenburg, from March 15, through April 6. With Galileo as the antecedent to this work, Irondale will be bridging the gap between German thinkers across the generations to highlight the impact that Brecht continues to have on contemporary creators and audiences.

The Life of Galileo will run through Saturday, March 9, Wednesdays through Saturdays. Tickets are $30 and available here.

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Andrea Leonhardt

“Made in Germany,” Andrea Leonhardt is the managing editor for BK Reader. Andrea holds a bachelor’s degree in political science, with minors in American studies and education, and a master’s...

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