Reviewed by Judy Richter
There's no doubt that Nikola Tesla was one of the greatest scientific minds of the late 19th century and the first few decades of the 20th, but he's hardly a household name today. In its first performance in the United States, Electric Company Theatre of Vancouver, B.C., makes a case for his contributions to modern society in "Brilliant! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nikola Tesla."
Presented by San Jose Stage Company and written, directed and performed by the four-member Canadian troupe, "Brilliant!" uses imaginative theatrical techniques to tell the story of the Serbian scientist-engineer who immigrated to the United States as a young man. He's perhaps best known for his rivalry with prolific inventor Thomas Alva Edison, who advocated direct current for electricity, while Tesla saw alternating current as vastly superior. Tesla prevailed. He also developed neon signs and the first X-ray machines and was ahead of Gugliemo Marconi in inventing radio transmission. He also was quite eccentric, perhaps even psychotic, never marrying and dying penniless and alone in his room in a rundown New York hotel.
In the 95-minute work, performed without intermission, the company presents highlights from Tesla's (Jonathon Young) life, including his rivalry with Edison (Anthony F. Ingram) and his long friendship with Robert Underwood-Johnson (Kevin Kerr), editor of the influential Century magazine, and his wife, Katherine (Kim Collier), who may have been in love with him. Ingram, Kerr and Collier also appear as other characters such as the pigeons that Tesla fed and the FBI agents that confiscated all of his papers after his death.
The action veers between realistic and stylistic, but it moves well, involving the audience in the story and the characters, so well portrayed by these versatile actors. They're aided by a set by Andreas Kahre, costumes by Mara Gottler, lighting by Adrian Muir, sound by the company, masks by Melody Anderson and video by Amos Hertzman.
It's an especially apt piece for San Jose, epicenter of Silicon Valley, home of hundreds of technological advances, some of which owe their genesis to Nikola Tesla.