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Arts and Entertainment

New era for Cleveland Play House opens with Galileo
The Cleveland Play House moves to Playhouse Square's Allen Theater and opens new season with Brecht's heady Life of Galileo

Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
The Life of Galileo opens the new season of the Cleveland Play House in it's new home on Playhouse Square.
Courtesy of Laura Fong
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America’s oldest regional theater is moving to a new space.  The Cleveland Play House opens its new season in the renovated Allen Theater in Playhouse Square with a play that depicts the dawn of the scientific age. 

WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair reports on The Life of Galileo and the dawn of a new era in Cleveland theater.

Galileo and the new Cleveland Play House

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The ceiling of the Allen atrium is a treat for the eyes  -  the acoustics under the dome are surreal.

The ceiling of the Allen atrium is a treat for the eyes - the acoustics under the dome are surreal.

(Click image for larger view.)

A modern theater

Technical rehearsals are still underway at the Allen Theater in downtown Cleveland’s Playhouse Square as the cast and crew prepare for opening night…

Artistic Director Michael Bloom gives a breathless tour of the remade vaudeville house, upgraded to a 21st century theater venue –

“Everything in here is new.  Everything built inside this historic structure, is new."

The Allen Theater is one of eight venues in what is marketed as the largest theater district outside of New York City.  Like the State, Palace, and Ohio theaters, the Allen was built in opulent baroque revival style of the early 1920’s.  The Allen originally sat 2,500. Bloom took it down to 500 seats to serve his vision of contemporary theater –

“Our mantra is at Cleveland Play House it’s about the relationship between the actor and the audience and that dictates everything.”

The Allen was upgraded in the 1990’s to accommodate touring Broadway shows, and the stage is enormous –

“This is the only theater in the world that I’m aware of in which the depth of the stage is the same as the audience chamber.  They don’t make theaters that way. We just got lucky because we turned a 2,500 seat touring theater into a 500 seat house.”

For 84 seasons the Play House was in…The Play House.  Built in 1927 on Cleveland’s East Side, the old space sported 40,000 dollar heating bills in the winter months, which Bloom says was unsustainable for the theater group.  The old building is now part of the Cleveland Clinic campus and Bloom couldn’t be happier…

“I feel liberated.  I feel like I’ve been released from prison…”

Big ideas 

It’s a feeling echoed by actor Paul Whitworth as he rehearses a passage of the debut production…

“The little boy says, ‘we’re so caged in’…”

Whitworth plays Galileo, whose observations 400 years ago turned the world – and his life -- upside down - 

“And I felt that way too, and it’s not just us…”

The play that ushers in the new era at the Cleveland Play House deals with some of the big ideas that ushered in the scientific revolution.    Director Michael Edwards says the clash between dogma and reason in Galileo’s time is still happening today  - 

“We are living through an intense period right now where there is a huge backlash against science itself, where there is a trumpeting of ignorance as a good thing.  There are people who insist that the earth is 6,000 years old, that evolution isn’t a reality. But they don’t hesitate to take anti biotics if they get a disease.” 

Galileo challenged the notion that the earth was the center of the universe, and he was tried for heresy by the Inquisition.  He eventually backed down, which saved his life, but was sentenced to permanent house arrest.  Whitworth, who plays the title role, says “The Life of Galileo” is about the unstoppable power of ideas.

“This play has a huge appetite, which is very ,very accessible in Brecht’s language, to the excitement of looking at the world as it is and not thinking of the consequences, initially.”

The new in the old

Metal acoustic panels overlay the Allen Theater’s original baroque architecture, imparting the feel of a post-industrial Berlin art-house.   It’s a perfect setting for Bertold Brecht’s “Life of Galileo,” according to artistic director Bloom -   

“The idea that you have this really exciting tension between the old and the new is part of the thrill of being in the Allen.” 

The $32 million Allen Theater complex includes two new theaters -  an adjacent 250 seat space, and an experimental black box - both of which will be used by Cleveland State University’s theater department. Those theaters will open in January.  Cleveland State and Playhouse Square Corporation worked with the Cleveland Play House to fund the project.  


Related Links & Resources
Cleveland Play House website

Playhouse Square website

Listener Comments:

break a leg on your first nite.your theater looks georgous,wish i could be there. give my love to stephen caffrey.i know hes a great actor so your show will be a smash. thank you and good luck ann marie from edinburgh scotland xxxx

Posted by: ann marie blakey (United Kingdom) on September 16, 2011 3:09AM
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