Who knew what? And when?


<p><b>“Toga-ether we can rule the world,” said Socrates to Plato—never.</b></p>

“Toga-ether we can rule the world,” said Socrates to Plato—never.

Photo by Benjamin T. Ismail

Outrage, 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday (no performance Thanksgiving Day); $14-$16. Big Idea Theatre, 1616 Del Paso Boulevard; (916) 960-3036; www.bigideatheatre.com. Through December 14.
Rated 4.0

Itamar Moses, not yet 25 when this—his first play—was published, might have bitten off more than he could chew in Outrage. It aspires to be nothing less than the history of knowledge. A dramatization of his senior thesis, Outrage surely deserves an A for ambition.

And Big Idea Theatre deserves equally high marks for presenting this mesmerizing but messy essay about how we know what we know. Or don’t.

When George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” was he stating fact as he knew it or, as some believe, forming a theory about how knowledge is acquired? Outrage takes it both ways.

Narrated by Bertolt Brecht (Jouni Kirjola, both humorous and authoritarian), this Wind in the Willows-esque plot flits from ancient Athens to the Inquisition in Italy to Nazi Germany and to a galaxy far, far away (modern academia)—to prove that not a lot has changed in the world of teachers, preachers, mentors, martyrs and malcontents. The jumping-off plot involves the offer of a $40 million gift to a university and what restrictions might come with it if accepted. The grant stipulates certain computer equipment, upgrades and usage, raising the question of whether computer technology aids or threatens human intelligence.

Jes Gonzales plays Lomax, a humanities professor who opposes accepting the grant; Ruby Sketchley is Dean Kale, Lomax’s former student, now risen above her mentor and eager to claim the very large donation; Ryan Snyder plays Daniel Rivnine, a new professor just learning the academic ropes; and Eason Donner is Steven, a hapless student who gets caught between dueling professors. Donner and Snyder exhibit easy chemistry in their student-mentor relationship, which echoes that of Socrates and Plato, though theirs is not entirely platonic.

Benjamin T. Ismail deftly directs a cast of 15 actors portraying 25 characters through the trippy script. They acquit themselves well, whether in toga (Michael O’Sullivan as a stoic Socrates) or T-shirt (Brent Randolph as IT wiz and computer nerd Brett). Melanie Marshall makes the most of some god-awful oaths as Polites, and Justin Chapman is solid as Menocchio, who challenges dogma with science. Brian Harrower’s intelligent lighting design separates and highlights scenes of action, and the set designed by Justin D. Muñoz provides several smart levels and entrances and exits.