The play was Isaac's Eye by Lucas Hnath, and concerns a battle between Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke over Newton's effort to get into the Royal Society, and Hooke feeling threatened by the young man's attempts to disprove some of the elder statesman's theories. The play was staged at the company's original venue, the back of a bookstore, Books on Vernon, in Glencoe, Illinois, a small suburb where I grew up, north of Chicago. They don't put on many productions there anymore now that they have a slightly larger venue, though after over 20 years of success, they've finally had enough local (and national acclaim) and raised enough money to build a new facility, which is under construction, so they're using the bookstore stage and some other locations around town in the meantime.
The tiny venue -- it's just 63 seats -- suited the production wonderfully with its intimacy. The story mixes fact and fiction, and the staging uses a clever device where a "narrator" (who participates in the action, as well), writes on a huge chalkboard that covers the back wall whenever something "true" is discussed in the play, so that you can have a firm grasp between reality and theme. (Sometimes the other actors write on the chalkboard, as well.)
I thought the staging was wonderful, the acting all terrific (particularly Marc Grapey as Robert Hooke), and the direction by the company's artistic director Michael Halberstam was smart and kept things moving all the time. And the play itself was very well-written with sharp dialogue. But -- there's a deus ex machina device that author Hnath throws into the second act that, while dramatic, was too forced for my taste and pulled me out of the play a little for being less a battle of great minds and more just a dramatic device. It was well-done, but just not the proper use of resources. My only other quibble is that while Jurgen Hooper as Newton was very good as an actor, I found his choices (or the director's choice) less interesting for me than I thought could have been made, playing the character as almost childlike. And while he did it wonderfully, all I kept thinking is that -- this is Isaac Newton, one of the great minds of human history, whose work changed mankind.
Make no mistake, it was all very good, and I enjoyed the production very much. But I was on the edge of absolutely loving it, and never quite got to that level.
Here's a scene, with Marc Grapey as a skeptical Hooke questioning Hooper's Newton about his experiment practices. You'll note that when I said before about "intimate" staging...I really meant it.