BWW Review: SILENT SKY at Detroit Mercy Theatre Company is Unexpectedly Brilliant!
Raise your hand if you have ever discovered something new, Googled it, found the Wikipedia page, which then made you go off on a flurry of related topics and suddenly time has just passed by? I'll raise both hands because I'm not ashamed to say that this happens to me often. Sunday was one of those days, all thanks to the fantastic production of Silent Sky at Detroit Mercy Theatre Company who educated me on Henrietta Leavitt. The Lauren Gunderson play is the fascinating true story about the 19th century astronomer who was hired to join a group of women "computers" and living in an age when women could neither vote nor express an original idea. Despite not being allowed to touch a telescope, Leavitt and her female colleagues at the Harvard Observatory made ground-breaking discoveries about the universe that remain vital more than a century later. The simplicity and elegance of this production of Silent Sky made the importance of Gunderson's words stand out to the audience and the cast of five worked seamlessly together to bring this impactful and moving production to life. It is a brilliant piece of Michigan theatre.
Lauren Gunderson has a way with words - it's one reason why I adore her plays. I love to read them. I love to see them performed. I find them important works of art. Even with other playwrights, words can get overshadowed by the performance, set, lighting, etc., but this was not the case here at The Marlene Boll Theatre. I think my only flaw with Detroit Mercy Theatre Company's Silent Sky is I wanted to know more. I had questions. Hence, the two-hour rabbit hole disappearance on Wikipedia, but that isn't the theatre's fault, the Detroit Mercy Company did exactly what they were supposed to do: present Gunderson's work and they did it brilliantly. They left me wanting to know more, wanting to know about this amazing woman, who, if I am to be completely honest, probably would never cross my radar since I'm an arts girl, not a science girl. Some theatre shows you go to enjoy and leave feeling with emotions, but others, like Silent Sky, you go to learn and are supposed leave filled with emotions and wanting more, which was achieved in every single way.
The other wonderful aspect about the show, before I talk about the talented cast, that the Detroit Mercy Theatre Company did exceptionally well was the minimalist approach to the set and lights. Sarah Hawkins, the director, seem to have a vision that the play and cast were not overshadowed by the sets, props, and costumes, but still used every element to her benefit. I really enjoyed Hawkins interpretation of the Silent Sky. I think anything more complex would have taken away from the importance of the learning who Henrietta Leavitt was and the message of play. I don't normally list crew design, but Alan Devlin for scenic and projection design and Seth Amadei for lighting design need to be mention due to how impressive it was. There were moments during the show that the simplistic beauty of the lights and set just elevated the mood and enhanced the passionate drive of the scenes. Bravo to Hawkins, Devlin, and Amadei for their simplistic, yet beautiful creativity of the show!
Amelia Rose Glenn played the role of Henrietta Leavitt and from the moment that she stepped on stage, it was hard not to want to watch her. This wasn't because Glenn played character that the show was about; it was because of her love and energy while on stage performing the role. Glenn was a lifeforce to be reckoned with throughout the show, which makes me wonder how much was the script, how much was direction, and how much was research into Leavitt's own life that she drew inspiration from. Her performance of Henrietta Leavitt is the reason I went home curious about a 19th century astronomer I had never heard of and spent hours reading about her, her colleagues, and their contributions to the field. The entire show of Silent Sky as a whole was brilliant and entertaining, but it was Glenn's performance that made me what to educate myself afterward in a field of study that before had very little interest to me.
The rest of cast is rounded out by Elise Pannemann (Margaret Leavitt), James Hardy (Peter Shaw), Nina Carlson (Annie Cannon), and Krista Schafer Ewbank (Williamina Fleming.) This cast of Silent Sky is a well-oiled machine and these five performers work extremely well together. I think my favorite part about the cast is with the importance and seriousness of the play, there are a lot of comedic parts involved that need exceptional timing. The five of them did this very well. Some of my favorite moments included interactions between Amelia Rose Glenn, James Hardy, and Krista Schafer Ewbank who all delivered Lauren Gunderson's playful words hilariously with perfect comedic timing and gestures bringing on large bouts of laughter from the audience.
Silent Sky is not an ordinary play. It's not expected, nor is it well-known. But, it is one of my favorite plays I have had the pleasure of seeing in years. It's an experience that is visually appealing and emotionally affects you. Take a chance on something new. You never know, you may learn something...
Silent Sky is currently running until October 27th at The Marlene Boll Theatre inside the Boll Family YMCA at 1401 Broadway in Detroit. For more information and tickets, visit www.DetroitMercyArts.com.
Connect with Detroit Mercy Theatre Company on Twitter at @DetMercyTheatre, on Instagram at @DetMercyTheatre, and on Facebook at facebook.com/DetMercyTheatre. Please use the hashtags: #DetroitMercy #DMTC #DMTC49 #IgniteDMTC49 #SilentSkyDMTC