Queen’s Drama presents Orbit

Telling the story behind the personal life of Galileo Galilei’s family

Galileo Galilei’s daughter told the story of life in a convent.
Image supplied by: Supplied by Queen's drama department
Galileo Galilei’s daughter told the story of life in a convent.

Most people have heard about the genius of the Renaissance Galileo Galilei, who was often hailed as the father of modern science and at one point was accused of heresy for challenging the Vatican’s view of the cosmos. But few know much about the man behind the science.

Inspired by the surviving letters of his daughter, playwright and professor Jennifer Wise of the University of Victoria set out to enhance our understanding of Galileo’s personal life through the production entitled Orbit.

Professional actor John Rainville carries the role of Galileo, a father of three whose years are getting ahead of him. His two daughters Virginia and Livia (Madelien Shaefer Scovil and Heather Abrams) spend their days locked up in a Florentine convent, while his son Vincenzo (Kyle Holleran) enjoys all the liberties that come with being a man with a famous father and a university education in 17th century Italy.

Imprisoned behind the walls of San Matteo convent, the sisters long to experience the world from which they’ve been deprived. Visitors come and go at their own volition, and Virginia’s letters provide one of the only means for the women to have their stories known.

This showing of Orbit was not only its official premiere; it was the inaugural performance of the Studio Theatre at The Isabel.

The theatre became the refectory of the San Matteo – the social space of the nuns, where they could interact with each other and with visitors. The set was intimate, allowing the audience to share the perspective of the nuns, a dynamic family of young women united in their joys and woes.

The cast was livened by the performances of Jacqui Sirois, in the role of Sister Prudenza, and Feerass Elli, as Francesco Rondinelli, each providing a spark of humour in the face of mounting hardships.

The emotional stress uniting and dividing the Galilei family permeated the room, capturing the complicated relationships between Abrams and Holleran, who portrayed a particularly nuanced sense of sibling relationship.

Except for some glitches with their projection equipment, technical aspects of the production heightened the performances. The lighting and sound effects produced a tangible sense of place. The costumes were period-pieces conceived with great attention to detail.

The language of the script combined with the youthfulness of the cast made the production all the more relatable. Altogether, Orbit does a wonderful job of sharing the secrets of the Galilei family, which have been suppressed by time and obscured by history.

The department of drama has managed to transcend centuries and bring this story to life, demonstrating that a second look at the past can uncover its very real relevance in our present. There’s more than one side to every story, and Orbit does justice to those sides that have been forgotten.


Review, Theater

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