In 1927, a young Indiana farm girl named Ruby is moments away from inventing television and, hopefully, a new way of life when Philo T. Farnsworth beats her to it, crushing her dreams of making the world better. Fast-forward to 1952 New York, where Ruby's daughter is a script supervisor coming face-to-face with the compromises of artistic vision and commercial viability. While Sunrise seems at first a whimsical alternative history of the birth of TV, this isn't the story of people who change the world; it's about whether to go on when you've been beaten. It's not easy to argue that compromise is tantamount to glory, but New York based playwright Groff (Orange Lemon Egg Canary) has crafted a gem-hard case.
Gawlik's direction is brisk delight; the production brims with crackerjack performances. Barrie, as Ruby's daughter, and Thornton, as her writer love interest, are first among equals and the sexiest screwball pair since Hepburn and Stewart.
In a play about television, it's fitting that the technical elements have a life of their own. Liviu Pasare's video and Ian Zywica's set work together beautifully to create an unusually natural meld of multimedia and old-fashioned stagecraft. Pasare's work is particularly marvelous, whether culling together montages of vintage ads or welcoming us into the space with a single white pulse on screen: the embryonic heartbeat of a new medium that will be compromised, yes, but will change the world nonetheless.