The last name of Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer, a German physician and astrologer, is the root of the word mesmerize. His method and theory of animal magnetism, a convoluted absurdity based loosely on alchemy, was taken seriously enough in 1784 that King Louis XVI commissioned a panel of experts to test its validity. That panel included Benjamin Franklin, and its inquiry found nothing but hocus-pocus. But Mesmers superstition survived and contributed to the rise of hypnotism in the 19th Century, then to the glorified entrails reading that is psychoanalysis.
Mesmer is, well, a mesmerizing crank straddling the Dark Ages and the Enlightenment. So the play about him, The Comfort of Darkness, has the potential to be a grand and bizarre historical piece, especially because it stars a Broadway actor and concerns Mesmers affair with a blind pianist, Maria-Theresa von Paradis, for whom Mozart may have composed a concerto.
The Comfort of Darkness world-premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday and runs through September 5 at the Caldwell Theatre (7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton). Tickets cost $45 or less. Call 561-241-7432, or visit caldwelltheatre.com.
Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Aug. 11. Continues through Sept. 5, 2010