I went to NYC tonight to see “The Farnsworth Invention.” It is the story of David Sarnoff (Hank Azaria) and Philo Farnsworth (Jimmi Simpson). Farnsworth invented television but was robbed of his patent.
I drove to the city by myself. Helaine and Stef were driving east, seeing Joy Behar at Foxwoods.
I was going to meet up with the secretive son of my secretive West Coast friend. He, along with a friend of his from school, had flown east for a few days. My secret friend’s family has a secret small apartment on the Upper East Side, which is where the son and his friend are staying.
By the time I reached Manhattan, they were out. I headed down to Greenwich Village to pick them up.
I’d like to think I know New York City very well, but the lower end of Manhattan where streets no longer run parallel and have names instead of numbers, is another story. It’s very confusing and I left the GPS home.
We drove down St. Marks Place and headed north to 8th Avenue and 45th Street. The Music Box Theater is on 45th between Broadway and 8th.
Lots of people avoid driving in Manhattan. I embrace it. It’s actually a lot of fun, if you go in with the right mindset. Just remember, the goal is to fill any open car-sized space with a car. To the victor goes the spoils!
Parking is simple. You enter Manhattan knowing you cannot park on the street and that off-street parking is ridiculously expensive. With tax, parking was $44.
At least we got to watch the cars ride the car elevator, which not only goes up and down, but also goes sideways!
The Music Box Theater is small as Broadway houses go. We sat upstairs, about halfway through the balcony The site lines were excellent, as was the sound. There’s no doubt we were looking down on the actors, which isn’t a plus.
The Farnsworth Invention portrays both Philo Farnsworth and David Sarnoff as themselves and on-stage narrators. Sometimes, as narrator, the actors break the fourth wall, acknowledging and speaking to the audience or even clarifying a point by talking directly to the other character, who remains in character!
To pull this off, you need superb timing. That’s how it’s written and how it was performed!
As the first act progressed, I grew to like the visionary character that was David Sarnoff… but was I? Was it really Sarnoff or the way he was being portrayed by Azaria? Sarnoff was quite the businessman, but was he charming too?
Hank Azaria’s voice reminded me of George Burns. I know that’s strange. Of course, Azaria has a million voices, many of which are heard on The Simpsons¹.
The likability of Philo Farnsworth is less in question. He, a Mormon, electronics savant from the middle of nowhere, stays simple and true to his science even as everything around him gets more complex. I think Jimmi Simpson was a great choice.
The show actually has a large cast. I’m saying actually, because none of them was memorable. That’s a necessity, as they were each playing three or four little roles.
The play was written by Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Sports Night). It tells two stories… often conflicting stories… simultaneously. From two perspectives, they piece together the life of Philo Farnsworth who, with no formal training and a limited budget, created most of the technology that is TV.
As he worked, Farnsworth raced against RCA and a team led by Vladimir Zworykin. Zworykin would ultimately get the patent, using what the play refers to as “industrial espionage,” to finish his project with bits of Farnsworth’s technology.
In the end, was this amazing discovery better off with scientist Farnsworth or broadcasting entrepreneur Sarnoff, who know how to market TV to the masses?
Maybe I’m too easy on Broadway, but I loved the show.
The entire Fox Family is back on Broadway later this week. It’s a musical.
¹ – Moe the bartender, Apu the Kwik-E-Mart owner, Police Chief Wiggum, Professor Frink, Dr. Nick Riviera and Comic Book Guy.