Searchers: Mary Lou Torre and George Murrell look for answers in 'Space Is Blue.'
Gravity in A Hurry
A world premiere at Pear Avenue explores the far-reaching thoughts of a young boy
By Marianne Messina
TEN YEARS AGO, I had a theory of gravity. And I thought it would be interesting to write a play where somebody had a new theory of gravity." From that thought, it has taken Gregory Meyer just that long to finish his play Space Is Blue (and the Birds Fly in It). Now in rehearsal for its world premiere at Pear Avenue Theatre in Mountain View this weekend, the play was brought to fruition through Pear Avenue's yearlong new works development and workshop program. (The development process has already begun for next year's new work.)
Meyer's process included a staged reading in February, feedback from actors and directors, and the addition of a new scene. In the play, Meyer gave his theory to an extraordinary, precocious British boy named Philip. "My theory and his theory," says Meyer, "is that since gravity behaves like acceleration—which is something that Einstein discovered—in effect, there really is no such thing as gravity; it really is acceleration."
But Meyer admits that his theory has problems in that it doesn't necessarily predict something that can be tested, which makes it not so much a theory as "just a crackpot conjecture." He even described the theory once to a physicist working in the area of gravity who confirmed Meyer's suspicions: "He essentially said, 'That is a crackpot theory.'"
Director Ann Kuchins notes that the science can be complicated for the layperson. But the play sneaks up on you, she says: as the characters unfold, Philip's personal risks become evident and tensions wind more tightly.
A young orphan, Philip has come to the United States to participate in the experiments of Dr. Cheevy (Dean Burgi) in the hopes of helping develop a cure for the progressive illness that's put him in a wheelchair. The boy stays at Helen's (Mary Lou Torre) lodging house and becomes the adopted friend of a group of academics who share a love for intellectual rigor and enjoy thorny ethical debate, until what-ifs become real decisions about real actions.
Though Kuchins had pictured a high-school-age youngster for the role of Philip, she revised her image the minute she auditioned 12-year-old, towheaded Brit George Murrell, visiting in the Bay Area until the end of summer. In some ways, Kuchins went out on a limb to cast Murrell, who had never carried a play before, in the lead role. In addition, Murrell had to juggle late-night rehearsals with full-time school during the day, which he reports was "quite hard."
But at this rehearsal, his insightful comments on feedback make it clear why Kuchins wanted him for the role. Through the director's notes, Murrell sits rocking side to side in the wheelchair, jotting down points with one hand and playing his Game Boy with the other. Besides an easy manner, Murrell has his character down. "He's very polite, he's a science genius, he makes sarcastic remarks and he shows off," Murrell says. He explains that though the audience might think Philip's story a tragedy, in the end "he's very happy."
One character whose ivory tower gets shaken by Philip's arrival is Corinne. Actress Susan Jackson describes Corinne as a Miss Jean Brodie, a teacher who goes beyond the standard subject matter to inspire and equip students for grappling larger life questions. In discussions with Dr. Cheevy's grad student Walter (Rob Dario), Corinne ponders the nature of truth, quoting the late Richard Rorty along with Plato and Socrates. Still a bit in character, Jackson says, "We do have a lot of philosophical conversations around the Algonquin Round Table." Slipping in and out of Hungarian accent, she obviously relishes her role as the blunt, bright academic who like any good pop-culture theorist is about to publish a paper on The Brady Bunch.
For all the play's lofty ideas, Kuchins says, it's "the human quality of the characters" and a good dose of humor that bring the play to heart.
Space Is Blue (and the Birds Fly in It), a Pear Avenue Theatre production, previews June 28 and opens June 29; Thursday–Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through July 15 at 1220 Pear Ave., Unit K, Mountain View. Tickets are $10–$25. (650.254.1148)
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