Brilliant!: The Blinding Enlightenment of Nikola Tesla


72 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 0-9732481-9-X
DDC C812'.6




Reviewed by Ian C. Nelson

Ian C. Nelson, Librarian Emeritus, former Assistant Director of
Libraries (University of Saskatchewan) and dramaturge (Festival de la
Dramaturgie des Prairies).


Called a modern-day Leonardo da Vinci, Nikola Tesla was an inventor of
many things, including AC (alternating current), and the holder of a
host of patents, some of which have yet to be fully exploited. He was
also a practical man of great intuition, little commercial sense, and
alarmingly few social skills.

This extraordinary play chronicling Tesla’s career was developed by
the Electric Company Theatre as its entry in the 1996 Vancouver Fringe
Festival. Five reinventions have brought it to this published version,
described by the authors as “a 90-minute physically and visually
driven tale of obsession, genius and the fragility of an ego defined by
the impulse to create.”

It is easy to see how Tesla’s life inspired the co-operative creation
of this piece and how it lent a ready-made name to a young—and frankly
brilliant—company. Those who participated in the writing of this
particular script include Kim Collier, David Hudgins, Jonathan Young,
and Kevin Kerr (winner of a 2002 Governor General’s Literary Award for
his drama Unity (1918)).

The script is particularly strong in bringing out the rivalry between
Tesla and Thomas Edison, the inventor of DC (direct current), in terms
of both direct confrontation and telling irony: “Nikola Tesla and
alternating current: two names that America won’t soon forget!”
Indeed, Tesla (with AC and his eponymous coil) won the technological
battles, but Edison won the propaganda war. The play also strikes a
deeply human note as it records the vicissitudes of Tesla’s friendship
with Robert Underwood-Johnson, editor of Century Magazine, and his wife,
Katherine. A production of Brilliant! seems to call for high-tech
solutions, but the script carefully notes its low-tech Fringe-style
beginnings. More importantly, in plot, dialogue, and action, the script
maintains a fine balance between several sets of poles: recounted
history and dramatic effect, intellectual ideas (both technological and
psychological) and demonstrated character, verbal and physical/visual
expression, and finally stasis (the arresting stage image) and action.

Brilliant! is accurately described on the cover as “the signature
creation of a company on the vanguard of new-wave Canadian theatre.”
It won five Jesse Richardson awards, including Best Original Script.


Collier, Kim, et al., “Brilliant!: The Blinding Enlightenment of Nikola Tesla,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 17, 2024,