The Farnsworth Invention
With Lynnette Victoria
This is the third in a series of posts by blogger Lynnette Victoria about the making of TPNC’s production of The Farnsworth Invention by Aaron Sorkin.
It is a pleasure to finally introduce you to the two talented actors portraying David Sarnoff and Philo Farnsworth. Meet Eric Dino and Eric Regan (yes, that does get confusing. They go by last names 🙂 )
Dino and Regan were asked about their process and, as humble as they are, they chalked most of the credit up to their fellow actors and their fearless director, Julie Bell Petrak. But I’ve been sitting in the audience throughout this process and I saw the raw beginnings of what are now fully-fledged complex characters that are so human. In turn, seeing Petrak’s approach to each actor has also taught me the value of recognizing how people work best and in order to get the best out of them, a director must adapt to their method.
For instance, Eric Dino with his potent voice and commanding personality, has a tendency to gravitate towards what is comfortable (as we all do). He admits that “the need to be heard and anger are the easiest to play.” I concur, 100%. But what he won’t admit to is how perfect he is when he gets it right, transforming that angry “draft” version of Sarnoff into the multi-faceted narrator of our story. We can see his Sarnoff at his weakest, his most vulnerable, his best, and yes, his funniest. (Frustrated Sarnoff is hilarious). But the final result is done so efficiently sometimes, it seems as though he’s not even trying.
Keeping Dino on his toes at the other end of the stage is Regan, bringing his game. Just last night, I saw a new energy in him which led him to RISK – risk being sloppy and shaken and undone. He took on Sarnoff with more power than he ever has, and we’re still in tech week. You’ll see as Philo’s confident demeanor starts to contradict his inability to keep things together and that is a testament to Regan’s diligence and dedication. I feel so close to Regan in that way – being so young and being challenged to bring forth loss of life and loss in life is a nasty business. But he carries that weight with poise. Ask for his autograph, you’ll need it. 😉
It has been a joy watching these two powerhouses work their way through this process and they continue to find the magic (because the work is never really done). No doubt, they have a supporting cast that makes their job a lot easier, but there needs to be a give and take, a willingness and generosity, for an ensemble to work – and this cast has it in spades. There are no divas here. And they are equally charming and giving in real life, which just makes things so much better.
But enough of the gushing: here’s what Dino and Regan had to say about their personal journeys in the making of The Farnsworth Invention.
What has been the most rewarding part of this process for you?
Dino: I have never played a role this big before. Not only in terms of the size of the part, lines and scenes etc., but also the size of Sarnoff’s character and personality. Sarnoff, like this play, is ginormous because of all the relationships he has throughout the play with his wife, boss, underlings, business contemporaries, not to mention Farnsworth’s wife and Philo, but most importantly I think, the relationship he has with the audience. Climbing into Sarnoff every night IS a process. Then I get to watch Farnsworth, with all his brilliance, relationships, team and demons. I get to watch it all unfold from my “spot” stage left. The reward for me is observing and learning from it all!
Regan: With most productions, the most rewarding part is the opportunity to watch and learn from fellow cast members. This show has certainly been no exception! Sorkin can be tough, and I would not have had any shot of pulling it off without such an incredible group of people to play off of. Many of the actors play several characters and seeing them transform into something different every time they walk onstage has been both entertaining and educational. Our cast is a wide variety of young and old, veteran and novice, familiar and foreign, and most importantly- well behaved and mischievous! This talented group of people is always keeping me on my toes, both on and off stage, and serving alongside them has definitely been the most rewarding part of this production. Together, we work to support each other, put on a great show, and keep up the Sorkin Pace!
The most challenging?
Dino: The challenge? We hear it every night from Julie…It’s Sorkin! The writing is on another level. There’s not one wasted sentence or word in the entire script. No filler. Everything spoken and acted adds something valuable to the characters, their relationships, and story. It’s a relentless pace with no coasting; a few breaths here and there but even those have meaning. My ultimate challenge is to make Sarnoff human -not just a caricature of this consummate media titan – but a real person with a heart, flaws, desperation and humility for all to see.
Regan: The biggest challenge I found in portraying the inventor of television was in just that- inventing the television! The first time I read through the script, I encountered several words that I not only couldn’t define, but could barely pronounce. In fact, there were whole paragraphs where I didn’t understand a word he just said. Luckily, I didn’t have to look far to find explanations. Upon further examination of the text I realized that Aaron Sorkin wrote enough information in the script that, under close scrutiny, would tell an actor all he needs to know about an image dissector, a cathode tube, and electronic television. That being said, Wikipedia was a big help…
Why should people come see this production of The Farnsworth Invention?
Dino: It’s a great play!! It’s Sorkin, but that’s only part of it. It’s also lead by such a talented and visionary director. JBP has a way of staying true to the writer’s vision but never settles on the black and white, always finding so much more between the lines. Her productions speak for themselves. This play also has a hugely talented cast pulling off multiple characters, accents and (a JBP staple) gender bending! All this and the ability to do Sorkin proud; plus the cast is funny as hell!
What makes this story universal is that it’s so much more than a guy and his invention. Above all else, it’s about the human spirit and man’s innate need to “explore, build and protect” – never ending since the beginning of time.
Regan: People should come see our production of this compelling show for plenty of reasons, and chief among them is because Julie Bell Petrak directed it. With an impeccable eye for casting, Julie has a way of finding the perfect person for each role. Once she has her team, she does an amazing job of helping them find each other, find their characters, and find the story. Each of her productions is special and unique- a directing style that lends itself well to Aaron Sorkin’s work.
Sorkin is one of the best storytellers of our age. All of his works are universal because they are so multifaceted. Every character he imagines has so many layers, it is near impossible to find their core. This makes it possible for all audience members to relate to all characters. When he writes, Sorkin has a way of combining all different types of genres into one super genre, and as a result, there is something there for everyone.
Aren’t they great? Wait until you see the rest of the cast!
The Farnsworth Invention premieres May 6th and runs every weekend through May 21st.
We hope you enjoy the show!