The always-inventive Circle X Theater Co. has once again leaped into the murky waters of historical fact (“Louis Slotin Sonata,” “Schadenfreude,” “An American Book of the Dead”) to peruse the creation of the art form we call cinema. The award-winning team of Jillian Armenante and Alice Dodd (“In Flagrante Gothicto”) have scripted an intriguing if thematically uneven glimpse into the interlocking lives of motion picture pioneers Thomas A. Edison (Christopher Carroll), Alice Guy (Dodd), Auguste and Louis Lumiere (Joe Fria, Tim Sabourin), W.K.L. Dickson (David Heckel), George Melies (Jim Anzide), Lizzie Le Prince (Johanna McKay) and her son Adolphe (Mickey Caputo). Helmer Armenante inventively guides the large, talented Circle X ensemble through a music-filled vaudevillian farce that highlights the trials and intrigues of the dreamers and schemers who first got pictures to move.
Set during the late 19th and early 20th century, the action focuses heavily on the efforts of Edison to ruthlessly steal his way into the patent books as the primary inventor of the motion picture camera. Along the way, he absconds with the rights to the Kinetoscope, which was actually developed by one of his workers, W.K.L. Dickson.
Later, they both conspire to defeat the American patent claims of deceased Frenchman Auguste Le Prince, as championed by his widow Lizzie and son Adolphe. Meanwhile, back in Paris, the Lumiere brothers, Auguste and Louis, have gotten the jump on everyone, presenting the first projected motion picture show on Dec. 28, 1895.
The highlights of this production, however, are the fascinating tales of two early filmmakers whose innate talents led each to pioneer the early skills of moviemaking. Jim Anzide is deliciously over the top as magician-turned-filmmaker Melies, who made the landmark “A Trip to the Moon” in 1902.
Dodd offers a winning portrayal as Alice Guy, who was the first to utilize actual storylines in films and invented such techniques as the closeup.
Armenante and Dodd attempt to underscore the myriad storylines by infusing the production with the light-hearted “gay ’90s” entertainment style of the times, facilitated by the songs of Chris Jeffries and the choreography of Gerry McIntyre.
Much of it hits the mark, including such sprightly ensemble numbers as “Good Morning, Mr. Edison” and “Too da Loo,” featuring Michelle Noh, Beatrice Casini, Emma-Jane Mezher and Michaela Watkins.
The production does not fare as well when it vocalizes the angst of Lizzie Le Prince as she laments for her lost husband or Alice Guy’s heavy-handed show-closing plea that “Someone Remember My Name.”
The production shows great promise but could use some judicious editing.