March 2007

An “Insider’s” View of “The Farnsworth Invention”

(The La Jolla Playhouse "page to stage" workshop production of Aaron Sorkin’s The Farnsworth Invention wrapped up its run on Sunday, March 25; with that in mind, what follows should really be read as "past tense.")

In an open discussion with audience following the Sunday, March 18 matinée performance of The Farnsworth Invention at the La Jolla Playhouse, playwright (and screenwriter and TV impresario) Aaron Sorkin quipped that with his years of experience in the business, he’d learned to give the audience what it wants: "…and it’s clear to me that what the audience wants is a play about 1930s patent law…" 

I can’t speak for the rest of the audience, but anybody who knows me knows that that is precisely what I’ve been advocating for….oh, thirty-some years now.  So I filed into the theater this past Saturday night with a perspective quite unique from that of anybody else who was in the hall, because I have been living with this material all that time, and know the "true story" probably better than I know my own life story.

I must confess, I entered the theater at first fully expecting to hate everything that was about to unfold before me. I had sufficient "advance knowlege" of what I was about to see that I was certain there was no way I was gonna like it.  And, indeed, after the first viewing, I was entirely conflicted about the disparity between the production’s dramatic impact and its divergence from what I would consider historical propriety.

Fortunately, I am not only writing this review from the unique perspective of my "insider’s knowledge" of the facts; I also saw the play twice  — first on Saturday evening, and then again Sunday afternoon.  What I realized on the second viewing was that I had watched the first performance with my nit-picker turned up ‘to eleven.’  I actually made all kinds of notes about little details that were "wrong."  But when I watched it again Sunday, I left the nit-picker at the door, which freed me to sit back and enjoy the production as any newcomer to the material might. And from that perspective, I was much better able to appreciate the scope — and, yes, the grandeur — of what has been accomplished here. 

But first, try to imagine the trepidation I felt as I settled into my seat on Saturday night and waited for the lights to dim…

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