Lauren Gunderson's SILENT SKY to Shine a Light on Groundbreaking Female Astronomers at Merrimack Rep

By: Oct. 18, 2017
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Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) continues its 39th season with Silent Sky, the phenomenal work from playwright Lauren Gunderson, whose I and You charmed and stunned MRT audiences in October 2015 and later transferred Off-Broadway to become an audience hit and Outer Critics Circle Award nominee.

Much in the spirit of the 2016 film Hidden Figures, Silent Sky brings to life the work of astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, who in the early 20th Century rose high above her duties as a "computer" at Harvard and developed the techniques that led to the first discovery of galaxies beyond our own.

Silent Sky features the return of Julia Brothers, an audience favorite in last year's Women In Jeopardy, and introduces MRT audiences to Polly Lee, currently starting as "Joan" on the award-winning TV show The Americans.

The approximately 2-hour show will be performed with one intermission. Performances are October 18 - November 12. Press performances are at 8:00 pm on Saturday, October 21 (Opening Night) and 2:00 pm on Sunday, October 22. All performances will be held at the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre located at 50 East Merrimack Street in historic downtown Lowell. Tickets range from $26 - $73 and are on sale now at www.mrt.org or by calling 978-654-4678. More information is at www.mrt.org/sky.

Director Sean Daniels says, "Lauren is the most exciting playwright working today, and we're thrilled that she thinks of MRT as one of her home theatres. Her production of I and You is still talked about by audience members and was a great way for us to bring the great work we're doing in Lowell to New York City. Lauren has really made it her career's focus to bring these stories - stories of women who didn't get the recognition they deserve - to the forefront. The fact that this one is a New England-based story made it irresistible to us."

Gunderson was recognized as the most-produced living playwright by American Theatre magazine in 2016 and will be in attendance at opening night of Silent Sky. "[It] just makes me over-the-moon excited to think of telling this story with this incredible group of artists at MRT, just miles away from where these women actually changed the world with their minds," said Gunderson in a video for MRT's Season Announcement Event. "At the pinnacle of the reason why I'm so excited to share this story with you at this point in our nation's history is that it's about truth-and what happens when we invest in the truth and its discovery, and how that changes all of us for the better, all over the world."

Lauren Gunderson's script has found immense success at theatres across the nation-from Seattle to San Francisco to the Boston area in Flat Earth Theatre's lauded production earlier this year.

At the center of Silent Sky is Henrietta Leavitt, a passionate and inquisitive "computer" at the turn of the 20th Century. She trades the comforts of home for a job at the Harvard observatory, grinding through routine calculations for astronomy studies that fascinate her-though as a woman, she is not allowed to so much as touch a telescope. Staying long after hours to pursue her own science work she discovers a technique that makes it possible to measure the distance to stars by their pulsating light. Astounding truths cascade from this single shocking discovery, upending her colleagues' views of themselves, each other, and the universe itself for all time.

MRT's production will include a breathtaking set by James J. Fenton (MRT's Abigail/1702) that turns the entire theatre into a constellation of light, as well as a lush original score by composer and sound designer David Keeton (of Chicago's famed Second City), offering a rich treat for the heart, mind, and senses.

Lauren Gunderson is a playwright, screenwriter, and short story author whose accolades include the 2016 Lanford Wilson Award from the Dramatist Guild, the 2016 Otis Gurnsey Award for Emerging Writer, and the 2014 Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award for I and You, in addition to her recognition as the most produced living playwright in America by American Theatre magazine in 2016.

The five-person cast includes Alexis Bronkovic (Henrietta Leavitt), Julia Brothers (Williamina Fleming), Tom Coiner (Peter Shaw), Victoria Grace (Margaret Leavitt), and Polly Lee (Annie Cannon).

The creative team headed by Director Sean Daniels (who also directed I and You) includes James J. Fenton (Sets), Anne Kennedy (Costumes), Brian J. Lilienthal (Lighting), and David Keeton (Original Composition and Sound).

Tickets range from $26 - $73 and are available at www.mrt.org or by calling 978-654-4678. A senior discount is offered for 10% off adult ticket prices. Student tickets are $15. Group discounts are available for groups of six or more by calling 978-654-7561. $5 Night: Wednesday, October 18 at 7:30 pm. Patrons may purchase tickets for $5, cash only, at the Box Office between 4:30 pm - 7:30 pm. Limit 2 tickets per person.?Lowell Night: Wednesday, October 25 at 7:30 pm. Lowell residents may purchase tickets for $10, cash only, at the box office from 4:30 pm - 7:30 pm. Proper ID required, limit 2 per person.

Special Events:

On Wine Down Friday (October 20), the audience will be invited to enjoy a complimentary glass of wine with the cast and crew in the lobby following the 8:00 pm performance, as well as with the Western Avenue Studios Artists Association members whose work is currently on exhibit in the lobby.

On Thursdays, October 19 and November 2, Ask the Artists Post-Show Discussions will provide an opportunity for the audience to hear directly from the actors and other artists who created the show.

MRT will offer Free Child Care provided by licensed professionals from Acre Family Child Care at the 4:00 pm October 28 performance. (Reservations required, visit www.mrt.org/child-care for more information.)

MRT will also offer Educator and Military Discounts of 50% off tickets to the October 28 4:00 pm performance, using the discount codes ED50 and MIL50. (Please show ID when picking up tickets.)

Additionally, MRT is partnering with Pollard Memorial Library on the 2017 Lowell Reads event, featuring New York Times bestselling author Dava Sobel's book The Glass Universe, also about the women astronomers of Harvard. The library is planning six separate events, including a talk by Ms. Sobel on October 3 and a stargazing event with UMass Lowell Astrophysics professor Silas Laycock on October 10, which will include Silent Sky cast members performing scenes from the play. More information is at www.pollardml.org/events/lowell-reads.

MRT will also be the featured nonprofit at Made in Lowell's Food Truck Night Market on Friday, October 13, with a Silent Sky-themed costume contest. More information is at www.madeinlowell.org/friday-nights.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) has been Merrimack Valley's professional theatre company since 1979 and is an integral part of Lowell's identity as the cultural heart of the region. MRT produces vibrant, contemporary plays that explore what it means to be alive today. A seven-show season runs from September through May in the intimate 279-seat Nancy L. Donahue Theatre. The company is known as a leader in producing new plays, especially world and regional premieres. MRT is one of 72 theatres nationwide (one of three in Massachusetts) with membership in LORT (the League of Resident Theatres).



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