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Review: PHOTOGRAPH 51 at Williamstown Theatre Festival On Audible

Honoring the monumental contribution of one scientist with two X chromosomes whom history nearly left behind.

Review: PHOTOGRAPH 51 at Williamstown Theatre Festival On Audible

PHOTOGRAPH 51, the second offering in Williamstown Theatre Festival's 2020 season on Audible Theater is a biographical piece. It focuses on Rosalind Franklin (Anna Chlumsky) a chemist at England's King's College and her work in the early 1950s.

Much of the plays early action establishes Rosalind as a strong, highly qualified woman in a world virtually exclusive to men, long before the feminist movement began to chip away at the glass ceiling. A world in which men enjoy privilege without question and the very notion of equality between genders does not exist. Rosalind is undermined by her colleague, Maurice Wilkins (Omar Metwally) who repeatedly takes credit for her efforts. He allows Rosalind and her work to barely exist in the background, leaving her to be seen only as a nameless "photographer" rather than lead scientist responsible for groundbreaking work. She also struggles to compete with the rival scientific team of James Watson (David Corenswet) and Francis Crick (Aasif Mandvi) in a race to unlock the mystery of the DNA molecule.

Review: PHOTOGRAPH 51 at Williamstown Theatre Festival On Audible Under the direction of Tony Award winner, Susan Strohman, Chlumsky presents a stoic character seemingly devoid of personality. She appears relatively dry, plain, and direct telling a colleague: "I do not joke. I take my work seriously". When Rosalind's colleague, Ray Gosling (Ben Rosenfield) admits his fear at the risk and potential danger of their work, she remains strong and incredibly dedicated to the task at hand. We learn, however, that there is depth below the surface. Rosalind's tough no nonsense exterior is in response to a world ruled by perception rather than reality. Where societal norms and expectations dominate, and in which she must be exponentially better than her male counterparts, only to be seen as having a fraction of their worth and value.

Writer, Anna Ziegler, drives the point of reality being far different from perception and assumption by painting the men in the piece to be largely driven by gossip and conjecture rather than factual evidence as one might expect from men of science.

PHOTOGRAPH 51 is a biographical piece of theatre that plays out in scientific laboratories in mid twentieth century England. The pressure of competition over collaboration is pervasive. There is no getting around the dryness. There are little to no moments of levity or comic relief. The subject matter, like Rosalind, does not allow for jokes. Neither is this riveting drama, with cliff hanger moments. As the dialogue confirms, the world of science can be a rather lonely place.

PHOTOGRAPH 51 is fairly predictable but, as so many of the WTF presentations under Artistic Director Mandy Greenfield are, extremely relevant. The creative team, which includes Sound Designer Darron L. West; Dialect Coach Barbara Rubin; and Assistant Director, Maya Davis, does a great job of bringing listeners into the action using deftly applied tools including sound effects that might go overlooked but are worth noting as a significant factor in the high-quality production of the piece.

With a running time of approximately 90 minutes, PHOTOGRAPH 51 is now available to Audible listeners. Special access to all seven titles in the WTF Season on Audible will be made available to eligible donors. Visit for more information.

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Marc Savitt has a life-long passion for, and association with the performing arts, particularly Musical Theatre. He has performed with choral groups in several US cities, and London, and appears on multiple... (read more about this author)

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