Acrosstown Repertory Theatre presents ‘Galileo of Gainesville’

From left, Karelisa Hartigan, Will Burke, Shamrock McShane (center), Norma Berger and James Wesson appear in a scene from “Galileo of Gainesville,” which opens Friday at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre. (MAX REED/CORRESPONDENT)

Published: Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 10:37 a.m.

Of all the places legendary astronomer Galileo could end up, Gainesville may be the least likely. But he’s making his way here—symbolically, of course.


‘Galileo of Gainesville’

What: New original play about a professor who becomes homeless and learns from those he meets on the streets.
When: Opens Friday with preview performance for charity today; showtimes are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 29
Where: Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, 512 S. Main St.
Tickets: $10, $8 for students, seniors, educators and military personnel

The Acrosstown Repertory Theatre is staging “Galileo of Gainesville,” an original play. In lieu of bringing Galileo back to life, the play focuses on an astronomy professor who has big ideas, but trouble communicating. After losing his family and his job, he finds himself living on the streets. Through his interactions with the homeless people he meets, The Professor discovers a way to achieve a balance that allows him to rebuild his life and gain a better perspective on communication with others, says Dan Kahn, director of the play.

The production begins a three-weekend run on Friday, but tonight’s dress rehearsal is also open to the public as a preview performance. Proceeds from the rehearsal will be split between Home Van and the Catholic Worker house, which both provide services to homeless individuals.

The lead character, simply known as The Professor or Professor, must figure out his life in difficult circumstances.

“He learns the hard way that forgiveness and acceptance, tolerance and charity, are the special instruments; the telescopes and lenses we must use to see our communal existence clearly,” says Shamrock McShane, who portrays the lead character.

On the streets, the professor paces around, trying to find answers to life’s big questions, such as whether there’s only one form of loneliness or if it comes in infinite shapes and sizes. The character seems a bit insane, but also insightful. Try to imagine if the wise Yoda from Stars Wars had a bit of a psychotic break before becoming the all-knowing Jedi Master. There’s even a line in the play and a song that draw the same parallel.

McShane says he drew some inspiration from the character of Galileo in Bertolt Brecht’s classic play “Life of Galileo,” and he also took a few cuesfrom the character of Prospero in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

Along with an original script and a cast of homeless characters, the play also features live music, mostly performed between scenes. Six of the seven songs have original music and lyrics, five written by Kahn and one by Krsnaa Fitch, an actress in the play.

To write the play, co-creators Kahn, Karina Vasquez and Natalie Saltmarsh hosted group brainstorming sessions and readings at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza and the Gainesville Catholic Worker house from 2007 to 2009. During the meetings, people in attendance took a role and read through the unfinished script.

Kahn, who is also directing the play, said a lot of people’s interests and experience went into the script.

“People would get excited about the story and make suggestions,” Kahn said. “We videotaped a lot of those sessions and used those tapes to go back and add to the play.”

Kahn said as soon as he and Vasquez starting talking about a possible production, Galileo came to mind. He said the church took issue with Galileo’s presentation of evidence to prove planets revolved around the sun and not the Earth during the early 1600s because it rejected the idea that humans were at the center of the universe. The lead character is coming to grips with the fact that he, like Earth, is not the center of the universe and, therefore, does not have to take on the weight of the universe by himself.

“He realizes every perspective has its own gravity and that gives him a much greater balance because he can share experiences with people,” Kahn said.

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