Oct. 20 2010 12:00 AM

’Farnsworth’ looks back at a rivalry between ’two very driven men’



Although there were many things that drew veteran theater director Jane Falion to “The Farnsworth Invention,” there’s one in particular that most excited her: the writing.

The 2007 play comes from the pen of acclaimed scribe Aaron Sorkin, creator of “The West Wing,” “A Few Good Men” and current Oscar hopeful, “The Social Network,” and Falion has high praise for the playwright’s work.

“His dialogue is tight," Falion said. "It has a definite rhythm to it. There’s a pattern to it. It’s brilliant, it’s witty, and it’s fast.”

According to Falion, the play being staged at the Riverwalk Theatre in conjunction with Cooley Law School’s “Stages of the Law” series, tells a story that needs to be told — yet another selling point.

“Farnsworth” is a fictionalized account of the legal battle over the invention of television between inventor Philo Farnsworth and RCA executive David Sarnoff. The two waged a David-and-Goliath-like war for credit and patents on Farnsworth’s world-changing creation in the 1930s, with the underdog inventor emerging with less credit than he deserved, according to many.

“They really never met, but they were adversaries,” Falion said. “Most people have never even heard of (Farnsworth). It’s a fascinating story.”

Joseph Baumann plays Farnsworth and Doak Bloss stars as Sarnoff.

Despite his status as the creator of the most influential communications device of the 20th century, Farnsworth is a little-known name in the history books, something that Falion hopes the play will help to correct.

“There’s so much to learn from the show, a lot about science and about television,” she said, quick to point out that it’s all ‘’very approachable’’ for the audience, something she again credits to Sorkin.

“It’s a fast-moving show, technically a drama, but there are a lot of funny moments,” Falion said. “You get attached to these characters and there are still a lot of good one-liners.”

The play is told from the dueling perspectives of Farnsworth and Sarnoff, who take turns narrating each other’s stories, a device that allows the audience to decide for themselves who to side with.

“It’s a back-and-forth between two very driven men," Falion said, “and they have very differing views on the outcome.”

’The Farnsworth Invention’

p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays, Oct.
21-31 Riverwalk Theatre, 228 Museum Drive, Lansing $14 adults; $12
seniors and students (517) 482-5700