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Review: Little Lake's 'Farnsworth Invention' an entertaining drama

| Friday, July 30, 2010

With some plays, the pleasure is in the conclusion, the destination at which you arrive.

With others, the pleasure is in the journey itself.

Getting there is at least half the fun of "The Farnsworth Invention," running at Little Lake Theatre through Aug. 14.

The story, which begins in the early 1920s, concerns the race to the finish line between two contenders attempting to invent a device that will "transmit moving pictures electronically through the air and then reassemble them at great distances, all in a fraction of a second."

We know it as television.

The two contenders are Philo T. Farnsworth, an electronics genius from Utah who's working on a limited budget, and David Sarnoff, who heads the National Broadcasting Company and has a slew of scientists and laboratories.

You most likely recognize Sarnoff's name and the initials NBC, and probably never have heard of Farnsworth. The outcome of the race is hardly in doubt from the beginning.

So it's something of a triumph for playwright Aaron Sorkin -- who also created the television series "The West Wing" -- that we come to care so much about the characters, the struggle and the outcome.

There's more to this than who scores first. At the end of the play, both men confront their failures as well as their successes and are left pondering whether it was worth the cost.

Some profanity comes with the frustrations and failures.

The Little Lake Theatre Company does a first-rate job of staging this show.

Much of the credit goes to the interaction between the actors playing Sarnoff and Farnsworth. Sarnoff and Farnsworth never met in real life, but in the play, they are present observers during each other's narratives and intersect at several pivotal moments in the story. They spar nicely, with neither yielding ground as they challenge each other's version of the truth.

Art DeConciliis aptly displays Sarnoff's fiercely competitive nature, his deviousness and his belief that "the ends do justify the means," and a nice sense of grudging regret at the end.

As Farnsworth, Nathan Bell is equally assertive and far more sympathetic.

A supporting cast of 14 fills the tiny Little Lake performing space to near capacity as they bring to life the scientists, funders, businessmen, hangers-on and other characters necessary to this story. Director Jena Oberg moves them around the stage and through the quick succession of scenes with efficiency.

The result is an entertaining evening of theater that transforms a little known fragment of history into a satisfying piece of drama.

Additional Information:

'The Farnsworth Invention'

Produced by: Little Lake Theatre Company

When: Through Aug. 14. Performances: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Aug. 8

Admission: $15 and $17; $12 for age 15 and younger

Where: Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive, North Strabane

Details: 724-745-6300 or website

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