The Farnsworth Invention


NOTE: Normally, BC Review takes new or returning shows, and puts all the reviews in one place for your perusal. This however, is a very special BC Review, as we have collected the reviews for a play about television, by a well known television icon, Aaron Sorkin’s The Farnsworth Invention.

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 “Breezy and shrewd, smart-alecky and idealistic, the quick-moving drama presents two sides to the still-contentious story behind the invention of television.” (Newsday) “He has mastered all the dramatic rules so well, he can titillate you by deconstructing and then reassembling them. And in this case he certainly knows how to make a dry scientific quest into a provocative piece of theater.” (Chicago Tribune) “Intelligent and featuring plenty of witty dialogue, it also suffers from occasional smugness and a tendency toward clunky dramaturgy that detracts from its overall impact.” (Reuters) “And yet you’re likely to leave The Farnsworth Invention feeling that you have just watched an animated Wikipedia entry, fleshed out with the sort of anecdotal scenes that figure in “re-enactments” on E! channel documentaries and true-crime shows. This two-hour play is a fast-moving sequence of reflex-stimulating information- and emotion-bites. It never pauses long enough to find depth in any of them.” (NY Times) “The all-too-frequent passages of bald exposition merely make us hungrier for the scenes in which the players in this melodrama interact. It’s to the great credit of director Des McAnuff that while only Farnsworth and Sarnoff are fully drawn characters, several others come reasonably and entertainingly to life.” (Bloomberg) “Sorkin’s take on the Farnsworth/Sarnoff standoff would be better suited to a screen, either big or small. Even now, while crackling with crisp dialogue, The Farnsworth Invention often has the air of a clumsy stage adaptation of, say, ‘Citizen Kane.’” (NY Post) “The problem with The Farnsworth Invention is fact. Playwright Aaron Sorkin’s take on the gargantuan, and real, patent battle between the visionary chief of RCA, David Sarnoff, and the boy wonder Philo T. Farnsworth is a great tale. But here, it’s a tale… I’m sorry to report all this - I had a great time at the theater. Afterward, I thought about the way The Farnsworth Invention manipulated the facts and, in the end, its audience. I felt defrauded.” (Philadelphia Inquirer) “The subject matter here is engrossing enough to yield a multi-episode docudrama, and its content ensures that "The Farnsworth Invention" is never uninteresting. But when the playwright enlists his two protagonists to talk the audience through both the human drama and the scientific back story — pointedly indicating what’s important and what will be later on — the dramaturgical laziness undermines even the most robust narrative.” (Variety)