Wednesday, December 19, 2007
The Farnsworth Invention
The Farnsworth Invention is a clever, well-written, exciting piece of semi-fiction. Those expecting it to be more are clearly watching the wrong play: I mean, this is a show about how television -- the thing that brings you the latest dose of Kitchen Nightmares, but only after reruns of Cops -- was essentially stolen. It bends truth on purpose ("The ends justify the means; that's what the means are there for"), allowing each of the two central characters, Philo T. Farnsworth (Jimmi Simpson) and David Sarnoff (Hank Azaria) to narrate each other's story, a point which leads to them bickering about factual inaccuracies or to admissions of pure fabrication. The result is a play about the perversion of truth, with parallels drawn to how false perceptions led to the stock market crash and how hopeful dreams brought us into space. The play has to conflate a lot to do so, but Des McAnuff (who just did the compressed jukebox biopic of Jersey Boys) has no problem zipping from scene to scene; he's just dealing with a different type of song now, that of Sorkin's hypnotic banter. It probably helps him that the set is essentially the same two-tiered affair as in Jersey Boys (what a surprise to find that Klara Zieglerova did both), but the aesthetics here are the weakest part of the play. Then again, before television, it wasn't about looks, it was about sound, and Azaria and Simpson sound great. Best of all are their little indignant reactions to the ways in which they're sometimes portrayed or referred to, a nice bit of humanity to all that gloss and polish.