Brecht's 'Galileo' at Trinity Rep; also Munch, Minelli, Missa Gaia

Perhaps, Bertolt Brecht is to theater as Herman Hesse is to literature. If you don't buy this proposition completely, you should see the current production of Brecht's ''Galileo'' at the Trinity Square Repertory Theater (through Nov. 14). Heavily philosophical, transparently political, it uses theater as a platform for the writer's private diatribe. You can almost hear the German philosopher-novelist's voice in the storyteller character portrayed as Brecht himself in this production.

All of this, stretched out across an evening of theater, may sound pretty dreary; but it isn't - for three reasons.

The first reason is Richard Kneeland, who plays Galileo with a self-possessed humanity that grows more affectingly warm as the evening proceeds. The second is Richard Kavanaugh's ornately medieval portrayal of Cardinal Barberini (later Pope Urban VII). And the third is this production, which begins dismally enough but eventually discovers its own heart and soul.

The discovery can't come until after we abandon classroom lectures about the solar system. ''Get excited! We are seeing something nobody has ever seen before ,'' Galileo says. Only it's pretty tough to get excited today about astronomy lessons so elementary that even Dr. Carl Sagan and all the technicians at PBS wouldn't be able to turn them into entertainment.

What is exciting, downright riveting, however, is the political-ecclesiastical net that gradually tightens about Galileo, eventually forcing him to recant his discoveries. And the first glimmer of this dramatic confrontation comes well into the first act.

It comes in the considerable person of Richard Kavanaugh, who turns Cardinal Barberini into a more sensate being than Brecht ever dreamed of. From then on, Richard Kneeland catches fire and the whole production starts to burn with him.

Kept waiting outside a prelate's office, wearing an Ezra Pound-ish hat, or discussing the theories of Aristotle with his pupils, or hungrily consuming a plate of spaghetti, Kneeland touches the heart of this giant-sized man, bringing him into humanly appreciable proportions. Kneeland is such an intuitively real actor that he will hit pay dirt if he's given half a chance.

And that's just what he's given in Brecht's play: half a chance.

Brecht the communist-historian only allows Brecht the playwright-poet half the room he needs to breathe and create; and the very real theater smoldering under this work gets frequently smothered. Brecht's big mistake is in trying to springboard from the religious persecution of the 1600s into a more timeless reason vs. religion argument. In fact, the fight was not between religion and reason at all; it was a war between reason and institutionalized superstition.

Which means that you'll need some patience to get through the polemic into the people.

From Boston Arts contributors:

At first perusal the Edvard Munch print exhibition at the Fogg Museum in Harvard Square comes off as a tribute to his reputed fascination with psychological and morbid themes. But the viewer is asked (by the exhibition guidebook) not to think that morbidity is all there is to this German Expressionist, and instead to take note of his very innovative printing techniques.

Munch had a notable ability to convey starkly man's most passionate emotions, and he did it better through print than through paint. The years 1892-1902 marked the zenith of his most vivid emotional work. His etchings of people alone and in groups are sensitive and deep; but the bolder impressions made by his lithographs (such as ''Jealousy,'' and ''The Brooch'') and the tension-filled but balanced textures carved deep in his woodcuts ''Anxiety'' and ''Man's Head in Woman's Hair'' are gripping and memorable.

It is the rich aspects of his technique - like the roughly carved, undulating lines of the background - that make viewers want to look more than once. But because the show intends to stress his printing techniques (which correspond in time with his emotional subject matter), we are left almost entirely with his morbid etchings, lithographs, and woodcuts.

The exhibition, as a result, doesn't succeed in correcting Munch's reputation for being fascinated exclusively by morbidity.

After about 1902 the mood of his work took a calmer turn, producing more paintings and fewer prints, warm colors, and less stark themes. Unfortunately, we see very little from this later period. Nevertheless, the exhibition, which runs through Nov. 27, is a collection well worth seeing. Priscilla Liggett

''Liza'' blazed into Boston and lit up the Wang Center for four shows last week.

Miss Minelli pulls out all the stops. She adores her audience, her band, her material, and just plain being up there. This love, fused with her irrepressible energy, sent her through two packed hours of songs, stories, and dancing.

Her act is titled: ''Liza Minelli - By Myself.'' And most of her songs are about vulnerable women who have been toughened by repeatedly broken hearts. One, about a party where a woman sees her marriage disintegrating before her eyes, was absolutely chilling.

But Minelli's not all tough. Though she often plays a sadder-but-wiser, husky-voiced older woman, she bows with the appealing gawkiness of a 14 -year-old. So what if her voice was a bit hoarse, and she favored it? She gives so much otherwise that she's forgiven. Quite forgiven - to the tune of three encores. Catherine Foster

The usual sweet tones of violin and trumpet wafting through Symphony Hall were stilled last Friday night to make way for a chorus of wolf howls and whale moans.

The Paul Winter Consort was performing its New England premiere of Missa Gaia/Earth Mass - a mass in appreciation of the earth and its fellow creatures. This sensitive concert includes taped voices of animals, pipe organ, and choir - performed, on this occasion, by the 96-member Back Bay Chorale.

Diverging from the consort's usual fanfare of vibrant Latin/folk/jazz music, Winter gracefully interwove heavy ecumenical tones with the wail of his saxophone and the thunder of kettledrums.

Unfortunately, singer Susan Osborn wasn't well and had vocal problems, and the program suffered accordingly (she sings perhaps one-third of the material). The group was forced to work around the problem, but for the most part, they managed to put together an outstanding performance anyway. Cynthia Marquand

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