Timeline Theatre Co., one of Chicago's most ambitious mid-sized theater companies, is currently presenting the Chicago premiere of "The Farnsworth Invention," a play by Aaron Sorkin that seeks to dramatize the complicated history surrounding the birth of the television set. That, of course, is an invention that has shaped the culture of America -- and, indeed, the world -- in ways that those involved could never have fully imagined.
Sorkin has crafted his drama in such a way as to make the invention of the television -- at heart -- a hard-fought battle between one man Philo Farnsworth, who had a notion of how a television could work, and the corporate behemoth RCA, which is embodied in the play in the ruthless titan David Sarnoff.
That fierce fight between the relatively powerless, but brilliant Farnsworth and a Sarnoff determined to tap into the rich potential he saw in the television technology is certainly what is most compelling about Sorkin's play. Unfortunately, Sorkin has opted to add a lot of material dealing with the technicalities of how Farnsworth went about creating the television in agonizing fits and starts. And this material too often gets in the way of the human conflict and bogs down the proceedings.
Still, if one can sit patiently while much of the technical detail about the creation of the TV is addressed in the play's longish -- and more sluggish -- first act, theatergoers will be rewarded with a more satisfying second act where the mettle of both Farnsworth and Sarnoff is dearly tested. For fans of television and all that it has spawned, the history and the characters that Sorkin explores in "The Farnsworth Invention" are well worth one's time. "The Farnsworth Invention," beautifully produced and well-acted in the Timeline version, runs through June 13.