"2B," is case you’re wondering, is the baseball score-card notation for a double.  When somebody e-mailed me earlier this week his assessment that the reviews for The Farnsworth Invention had scored it a "FO" (fly out), I said I didn’t think it was that bad, more like a ground-rule double.  Happily, Terry Teachout at the Wall St. Journal agrees:

I’ll take them in ascending order of quality, starting with "The Farnsworth Invention." Aaron Sorkin, who fled Broadway two decades ago to till the greener fields of Hollywood, has returned for the first time since "A Few Good Men" with a play about television — and it’s not a gossipy roman à clef, either. While "The Farnsworth Invention" is as slick as "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," it’s also impressively earnest, and its subject is the less-than-burning question of Who Really Invented TV. And you know what? It’s good. Not great, you understand, but a rock-solid two-base hit.

Farnsworth and Sarnoff tell one another’s stories in "The Farnsworth
Invention," an ingenious conceit that keeps the action ping-ponging
back and forth between the two characters. Mr. Azaria plays Sarnoff as
a tightly coiled tough guy with a sandpaper voice, while Mr. Simpson’s
Farnsworth is engagingly and believably sincere. Des McAnuff’s staging
roars along like a high-speed tank, and the other 17 members of the
cast, all of whom play multiple roles, put personal spins on even the
smallest parts.

Reading this, I think it’s safe to conclude that whatever shortcomings the play has encountered in the attempt to convey very complex and somewhat esoteric material, is compensated by the strength of the performances, the cleverness of the direction, and the originality of the approach, i.e. the interwoven narrations offered by the principal characters of each other’s story.  I still think the playwright deserves high marks just for taking on the material, regardless of any other reservations.  It’s a difficult topic.  If aaron Sorkin can’t handle it, then maybe it can’t be done.


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