When actor Stacy Keach was a student at UC Berkeley in the early '60s, he appeared in Bertolt Brecht's political satire "The Life of Galileo." Although he played a small role, the experience sparked a lifelong interest in the 17th century astronomer. In fact, during a recent conversation, Keach rattled off facts about the man he referred to as "the father of modern science."
"I've learned so much about Galileo that I didn't know before," he said. "I had no idea, for example, that his musical affinities had a lot to do with his mathematical observations."
Among other accomplishments, Keach cited Galileo's work on a clock, a ballpoint pen and "a comb that doubled as a utensil."
Now in his 60s, things have come full circle for Keach, who will star as Galileo in the U.S. premiere of David Hare's version of "The Life of Galileo" presented by L.A. Theatre Works at the Skirball Cultural Center through Sunday. Directed by Martin Jarvis, this streamlined version of Brecht's work originated at London's National Theatre.
"There have been many other versions, but Hare has done what he calls an 'intimate version' of the play," Jarvis said from London during a recent phone conversation. "It is like a movie, and my aim in directing radio drama is to create a movie in the mind."
With a nod to its namesake, this version of "The Life of Galileo" embodies another science-minded concept as well. Namely, it will air on National Public Radio as part of L.A. Theatre Works' weekly radio show "The Play's the Thing." Local audiences can catch the original broadcast on KPCC-FM (89.3) on Dec. 1 at 10 p.m.
The show's scientific subject is in keeping with L.A. Theatre Works' mission. Founded in 1974, the company embraces technology in order to preserve significant works of dramatic literature on audio and share them with the public.
"The Life of Galileo" also addresses public discourse, albeit in a very different circumstance. When Galileo discovers proof that the Earth revolves around the sun -- a view that challenges the popular belief and church doctrine of the day -- he resurrects the age-old battle of faith versus reason. Under threats of torture, Galileo must choose whether to defend his teachings or bend to the church.
"Censorship is a central theme of this play and that is why it is still relevant today," Jarvis explained. "I don't want to get political, but lies are sometimes told for the greater good -- that phrase, which never actually appears in the play, hovers all around it."
'THE LIFE OF GALILEO'
WHERE: L.A. Theatre Works at Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles
WHEN: 8 p.m. today and Friday, 3 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday
INFO: (310) 827-0889; www.latw.org