Review: Brilliant! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nickola Tesla by Kim Collier, David Huggins, Kevin Kerr and Jonathon Young

Studio Series

The National Arts Centre Presents
An Electric Company Theater (Vancouver) Production

Directed by Kim Collier, David Huggins, Kevin Kerr and Jonathon Young
Performed by Kim Collier, David Huggins, David Long and Jonathon Young

Set Design Andreas Kahre
Costume Design Mara Gottler
Lighting Design Adrian Muir
Video Design Amos Hertzman with Electric Company
Sound Design by David Huggins with Electric Company
Producing Manager Cynthia Reid

Yes, I stood during the curtains calls; I was one of the first. This is another production for which the soundscape was remarkable and effective. But the production values were not limited to the sound: movement (including very inventive use of tap dancing) word patterns (I really like this whole concept) and a remarkably perceptive, intelligent script and superb ensemble playing were features that captivated me.

In the lobby before the house opened, the audience was able to peruse a display of materials that gave us some idea of Nikola Tesla’s astounding intelligence and achievements. Armed with that, we were in tune with the conspiracy theory advanced by the script that the circumstances and the FBI conspired with big business to conceal many of Tesla’s creations, including the invention of free wireless transmission of power and wireless transmission of ideas. Of course, the latter has come to us with the creation of the Internet, but Tesla’s conception dates back to the forties. Some of his major conceptions, such as alternating current predate 1900.

There are many instances in theatre in which you have to admire the sheer audacity of the playwright; for instance, at the opening of Shakespeare’s Richard III, a funeral procession, led by the spiteful widow is stopped by Gloucester (later to become Richard III) who is known to have committed the murder but is immune because of his royal blood. The widow spits in his face, if you will; in just a few minutes, Gloucester, depicted as a deformed man, has convinced her to marry him. Now think of the challenge for a playwright. ( I mention here that I once set out for myself the challenge of writing a play that ended in a joyous death — that was A Song After Living, not a simple task.) The writing team here set out to tell us the highly technical story of a man whose only significant activities were to think and to engineer. How do you tell his story without putting the audience to sleep? They addressed the problem with several techniques: the aforementioned word patterns (used to show Tesla’s forceful concentration and consequent disorientation) and the tap dancing (used during the explanation of how one of his theories worked). Pigeons also projected a lovely and diverting fanciful visual theme into what was essentially a very technical action.

The play was intriguing, thought-provoking and entertaining. What more could a full house want?

Footnote: the entry of the audience at this matinee was marred by an accident which occurred when an elderly patron, who appeared to many of us to be somewhat distracted, accidentally stepped backwards off the side of the bottom step on the dimly lit entrance staircase stage right. Prompt action by NAC staff and paramedics evacuated the poor lady. I have this thought for NAC management: the railing ended one step before the bottom on that staircase and the opposite one. This has proven to be dangerous. Will we see an immediate action, such as an alteration to the staircase? I do not believe that stationing an usher at the foot of each staircase would prevent such an accident from recurring, as the average age of theater audiences is certainly over fifty.

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About riverwriter

Poet, playwright, duplicate bridge player, website designer, cottager, husband, father, grandfather, former athlete, carpenter, computer helper for my friends, theatre designer, backstage polymath, retired teacher of highschool English, drama, art, a baritone singer in a barbershop quartet, who knows what else? wordcurrents is on Facebook: Doug also has a Facebook page, "Incognitio", related to his novels.
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