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EMA Review: The Farnsworth Invention Grade: **** Scrumptious

Lessons on Inventing  

By Paul Atreides

Author, playwright

Theatre critic at


Aaron Sorkin is arguably a genius and the King of Dialogue. His dialogue is always breezy, crisp, and brisk. That is certainly the case with his play The Farnsworth Invention, now running on the mainstage at Las Vegas Little Theatre.

Farnsworth began as a screenplay, but New Line Cinema shelved it. It was then rewritten for the stage and garnered a short Broadway run in 2009. Sorkin’s adaptation still feels like a film, moving swiftly from scene to scene and jumping time as it goes.

The story follows the race between Philo Farnsworth, boy genius, and David Sarnoff, the young CEO of RCA, to invent television. By his own admission, Sorkin plays fast and loose with the expected patent lawsuits.

It’s an ensemble piece, and director Lindsay Wray keeps all the parts and 17 cast members (playing 26 roles) moving from setting to setting with dexterity. Not an easy task. She has also kept an eye on and found the humor – especially for anyone old enough to remember things pre-internet.

Tom Vernon Ford does a wonderful job playing the adult Philo Farnsworth. His command of the stage bolsters his confidence, and he manages to still elicit empathy when he’s struggling to make his invention actually work. He further lapses into despair when the patent is stolen.

Dave Elliot plays the despicable David Sarnoff. He starts off well enough. However, many times throughout the performance, he speaks in the dark because he hasn’t timed the delivery to the blocking; he’s either jumping the cue or coming in too late. To be fair, it could have been the light board operator. Still, Elliot’s characterization remains solid from curtain to curtain.

Natalie Sherwood as Pem Farnsworth and Hallie Lyons as Lizette Sarnoff both do an admirable job. Lyons brings disappointment and slow-burn anger toward her husband keeping the necessary sense of time passage intact. Sherwood transforms from a giddy young bride to a supportive wife.

The two-level stage, designed by Ron Lindblom and Lindsay Wray, manages to cover a wide range of locations with ease, allowing the characters to walk from one to the next without missing a beat. Add in Michael Blair’s swiftly changed set dressings with the help of light design by Ginny Adams and the action never falters.

The sound design by Lindsay Wray also assists in the changing time periods, though the volume level for the 1920 stock market crash, which triggered the Great Depression, overpowers the narration by Ford to keep us abreast.

Special kudos must go to Julie Horton for dressing 26 different characters over a forty-year span and remaining true to each period.

Despite any production flaws, this is a fascinating and fun history lesson on the 20th Century’s most impactful invention.


What: The Farmsworth Invention

When: 8 p.m. Friday - Saturday; 2 p.m. Sundays through May 5

            2 p.m. Saturday, April 27

Where: Las Vegas Little Theatre - Mainstage, 3920 Schiff Drive

Tickets: $30


Grade:  **** Scrumptious

Producer: Las Vegas Little Theatre; Director: Lindsay Wray; Set Design: Ron Lindblom, Lindsay Wray; Lighting Design: Ginny Adams; Sound: Lindsay Wray; Costume Design: Julie Horton; Stage Manager: Christy Cunningham


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