By Lucas Hnath
Directed by Michael Halberstam
Produced by Writers Theatre
At the Bookstore on Vernon, Glencoe
Intriguing drama that effectively divides actual history from playwright’s conceit in work about Isaac Newton
In its Midwest Premiere, Lucas Hnath’s Isaac’s Eye, utilizes an ingenious meta-theatrical device that separates truth from fiction as the incontrovertible facts are written on the theatre’s wall as facts. This only adds to the intrigue of the work since the why, when and how of the facts give the writer room to create a compelling story.
We learn about the nerdy, deep-thinks twenty-five year old Isaac Newton (Jurgen Hooper) as he is committed to becoming famous as a innovative scientist in the mid 1600’s in England. Told in contemporary language in modern cloths, Lucas Hnath engages us into the thinking-man’s world of science and philosophy or “natural philosopher” as it was known then, the physicist and mathematician Issac Newton became known as one of the greatest “thinkers” of all-time. Hnath playfully creates the young, ambitious world of Isaac as he believes that his ideas came directly from God despite his challenging revisionist Christian beliefs. His confident and female companion Catherine (Elizabeth Ledo) want romance and marriage from the asexual Isaac who only wants a”friend,” not a lover from Catherine.
When Isaac sends many of his scientific findings to Robert Hooke (Marc Graphey), one of the most powerful scientists at the Royal Academy, he get a visit form the famed Hooke. In this meeting and consequent events, little appears written on the theatre’s walls but the imagined encounters deal with ambition, jealousy, ego, questionable scientific methods as well as blackmail and physical cruelty. Is Isaac so ambitious that he’d lie about doing an experiment? Would Hooke’s ego lead him to destroy another thinker who may prove him wrong?
Why did (fact) Isaac once insert a long needle “between my eye and the bone, as near to the backside of my eye as I could”? Did Isaac really want to find out about the fundamental of colors from light or what? This most engaging play uses wit, dark humor and intellectually stimulating logic to get us into the minds of inquisitive thinkers – both Newton and Hooke. The result is a wonderful, off-beat play filled with terrific performances. Jurgen Hooper is wonderful as the quirky scientist who believed in his gift from God; Elizabeth Ledo is fine as the devoted friend to Issac and LaShawn Banks is empathetic as the narrator and dying man. But, Marc Grapey commands the show as the conniving scientist and womanizer Robert Hooke. He drives the story into possible contexts that seem plausible. Could Isaac and Hooke’s actions motivate them into becoming fellow great thinkers? This drama both fascinates us and gets us to humanize the ‘thinkers’ who move the world. Isaac’s Eye delivers an engrossing, fabulously acted, night at the theatre. You’ll enjoy this unique play.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: September 10, 2014
For more info checkout the Isaac’s Eye page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Books on Vernon, 664 Vernon, Glencoe, IL, call 847-242-6000, www.writerstheatre.org, tickets $35- $75, Tuesdays & Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 6 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through December 7, 2014