- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 28, 2004

The topic of a panel discussion Monday evening at the Shakespeare Theatre was ambitious enough — “Genius — Are Moral Values Relevant?” — but no less so than the professional ambition of the six participants seated onstage while moderator Sir Harold Evans stalked about prompting a few answers.

It was a choice group: molecular biologist Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences; inventor James Dyson; actor Ted van Griethuysen; and biographers Richard Brookhiser, Walter Isaacson and Sally Bedell Smith. Mr. Brookhiser is also a columnist and editor, and Mr. Isaacson is head of the Aspen Institute, which co-sponsored the evening along with the Shakespeare Theatre’s National Council, an arts support group. (Mr. van Griethuysen and fellow actors Helen Carey and Andrew Long also read excerpts from the Bard’s works.)

Not surprisingly, panel members discussed how the question applied to their own fields. Mr. Evans, the noted editor and author, wasn’t shy in that regard either, making a reference several times to his own recently published book about American inventors titled — ambitiously enough — “They Made America.”

Mr. Evans said he found many inventors “moved by good values.” Mrs. Smith, a “Camelot” biographer, praised President and Mrs. Kennedy’s genius for introducing good taste to the White House and offered the provoking thought that “there does seem to be an assumption that genius excuses moral lapses,” at least in Mr. Kennedy’s case.

Mr. Dyson and Mr. Alberts made sure to praise the altruistic work of scientists and inventors whom they said love craft more than money. Mr. Brookhiser and Mr. Isaacson were droll when giving insights into the American icons they have profiled in print.

Few people present expected a definitive answer, least of all actor Avery Brooks, one of the theater’s National Council members listening in the audience. “I don’t know if anyone can define genius or where it comes from,” he said at the post-discussion reception. “Genius is the result — it’s not what you can identify. When you experience it, it’s gold.”

“I always think a person having [genius] is somewhat puzzled by it — even Shakespeare,” Mr. van Griethuysen added in a continuation of his public remarks.

Others in the audience included Mr. Evan’s wife, columnist Tina Brown; Barbara Harman, head of the Sydney Harman Foundation; Maurice and Joan Tobin, Pamela Peabody; Greek Embassy cultural counselor Connie Mourtoupalas; and Shakespeare Theatre Board Chairman Landon Butler and his wife, Carol.

Ann Geracimos

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