An intense tale of a fascinating invention

Lakewood Playhouse's "Farnsworth Invention" looks at the brutal world of media invention during the early days of television. (Photos by Dean Lapin)

All of us have had television as an integral part of life for most, if not all, of our lives. What exactly happened to turn the crazy idea of transmitting moving pictures with sound through the airwaves into an everyday reality? Lakewood Playhouse answers that question in its new production, "The Farnsworth Invention."

The play was written by Aaron Sorkin, creator of "The West Wing," "A Few Good Men" and "The Social Network." It tells the story of Philo T. Farnsworth (played as a youth by Greg Slease and as an adult by Niclas R. Olson) and David Sarnoff (played as a youth by Joseph Allegro and as an adult by Gabriel McClelland). The former is an Idaho schoolboy who envisioned television as a ninth-grader in 1921. The latter is a Russian immigrant who experiments with the concept as a young man in New York.

Sarnoff ends up running the company that became Radio Corporation of America, better known as RCA. Farnsworth spent a year attending Brigham Young University, dropping out for lack of money for tuition. By 1929 he has lined up investors who have set him up in a laboratory in San Francisco.

These two main characters frequently take the role of narrators, explaining to the audience the technological challenges and legal wrangling surrounding the development of television.

In act two legal proceedings begin, with the two men facing off in court. These ongoing narratives help set the stage for that part of the play.

Katelyn Hoffman plays Pem Farnsworth, Philo's wife, as sweet and cheerful for much of the play. She takes a more serious turn at Thomas Edison's funeral, when she confronts Sarnoff for engaging in borderline industrial espionage.

Many of the actors and actresses play numerous roles. Director John Munn does a good job keeping them on track and the action flowing smoothly.

The set, designed by Brett Carr, is simple but effective. Two portable, wooden platforms on the floor are moved about frequently by various actors, who also bring lab equipment to and from the stage.

Alex Lewington handled costume design. He has the cast wearing authentic attire of the 1920s and 1930s, with special attention paid to the men's suits.

Near the end of act two, McClelland's acting really steals the show, as the intensity of the rivalry hits a peak. As the play ends, he takes a different tone, offering his appreciation of the scientific genius of Farnsworth, who eventually faded into obscurity.

There is an undercurrent in the play, one that examines at the toll alcohol abuse takes on Farnsworth. There is considerable profanity, making this somewhat unsuitable for the easily offended.

"The Farnsworth Invention" is a fascinating tale of the evolution of television. Lakewood Playhouse captures the intensity of it well.

"The Farnsworth Invention" runs through March 25. For information on tickets and show times, visit www.lakewoodplayhouse.org.

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