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Play recounts true events with humor, drama

Roxanna Blevins, Assignment editor

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The scene was set for “The Farnsworth Invention” before any actors took to the stage Feb. 19 in Corbett Theatre. A simple set composed of large patent sketches adorned an otherwise empty stage, and audio clips filled the small auditorium.

The audio clips were familiar ones, from television shows including “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Home Improvement,” “Seinfeld” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

Written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by NKU professor Michael Hatton, the play opens with narration by sophomore theatre major Matt Krieg in the role of David Sarnoff.

Krieg got a couple laughs from the audience of about 125 within the first five minutes, when he explained some background scientific facts so the audience would know “what the hell is going on.”
Although “The Farnsworth Invention” falls into the drama genre, the laughs continued regularly through the first act, as did the profanity. During the show the f-bomb was uttered about 20 times. Most profanity was used appropriately and effectively, but it might be a deterrent to bringing young children to the show.

After providing some context, Sarnoff narrates a scene introducing the play’s title character, Philo Farnsworth, as a teenager, played by freshman theatre major Robert Macke. Following his introduction, the adult Farnsworth, played by freshman musical theatre major Wesley Carman takes over narration. Carman proceeds to introduce Sarnoff as a youth, played by freshman acting major Miles Conger.

For the rest of the play, the narration switches back and forth between Sarnoff and Farnsworth. The two narrators tell the story of Philo Farnsworth, a young man who invented television.
Based on true events, the story follows Farnsworth as he builds the first television to transmit an image. Unfortunately, Farnsworth is not the only person trying to make a working television, though.

Vladimir Zworykin, a scientist employed by RCA gets a patent for television before Farnsworth, but is unable to transmit an image, until Farnsworth shows him his television. When Zworykin builds a television based on Farnsworth’s ideas, it leads to a legal battle between Farnsworth and RCA president David Sarnoff.

One unique quality of the narration was when the character whose story was being narrated would break out of the scene and interact with the narrator. These interactions serve the double purpose of clarifying details and establishing the Sarnoff and Farnsworth’s relationship.

The first of the play’s two acts was difficult to keep up with at times, presenting the audience with various scientific facts and scene changes taking the audience to Idaho, Minsk, Utah, California and New York City. The fast pace lent itself well to many of the play’s humorous moments.

The second act was slower-paced and more dramatic; however, humor was not entirely absent. The comedy of the second act took on a more subtle tone, such as when the character George Everson, played by senior theatre major Chris Bishop, distinguishes between actors Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin, then exits the stage imitating the gait of Chaplin’s tramp character.
The costumes were well-chosen and appropriate to the 18-year span covered in the play, from 1921 to 1939.

The scenery was particularly striking, not because it was elaborate, but because of how well it set the scene. It was not evident until later in the play, but the patent sketches which created the backdrop are arranged with Farnsworth’s sketches on the left side of the stage and Zworykin’s sketches on the right side. The delegation of the sketches to separate sides of the stage coincides with the scenes, with most of Farnsworth’s scenes taking place on the left side of the stage, and most of Sarnoff’s scenes acted on the right side.

The scenery does more than establish location, though. It lends itself to the question, “Who is right and who is wrong?” Although he is the protagonist, Farnsworth’s behavior is despicable at times. His drunkenness, which is amusing at first becomes shameful as the show evolves. Sarnoff, on the other hand, is a cutthroat business man, who can be cold-hearted at times, but he is not entirely unlikable.

The whole cast gave a solid performance, but Krieg, Carman and sophomore musical theatre major Katharine Moser who played Philo’s wife, Pem, were outstanding. Carman’s interactions with Krieg were intense, often giving the feeling that their arguments were real. Carman and Moser’s interactions were equally well-acted, emanating a genuine sense of endearment between the characters.
“The Farnsworth Invention” will be showing in Corbett Theatre through Feb. 26. For ticket pricing and show times, the Fine Arts Box Office can be reached at (859) 572-5464.

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Play recounts true events with humor, drama