East Lynne Theater Company Presents NJ Premiere Of SILENT SKY

East Lynne Theater Company Presents NJ Premiere Of SILENT SKYComputers weren't always machines. In the late 1800's, computers were women astronomers who "computed" data to map the sky. They were only allowed to work from photographic plates, since only men were allowed to look through the telescope at the Harvard College Observatory. Henrietta Leavitt (1868-1912) was one of these "computers," and the award-winning Equity professional East Lynne Theater Company is celebrating her 150th birthday by presenting the New Jersey premiere of "Silent Sky."

Written by Lauren Gunderson, the most produced living playwright in America, "Silent Sky" was commissioned by and premiered at South Coast Repertory in 2011, and has been produced throughout the country.

This exciting new work moves quickly through time in the telling of Leavitt's tale. In 1912, working at the Harvard College Observatory, she provided the key to determining the size of the cosmos, which was a valuable stepping stone for others to later be able to measure the distance of stars, star clusters, and galaxies. As a working woman, she had to balance her dedication to science with family obligations and the possibility of love. Like many women, she was looking for her place in the universe.

ELTC's artistic director Gayle Stahlhuth is always on the lookout for American classics and new works based on American literature and history. In June of 2017, she was invited to a staged reading of "Silent Sky" at a New York Theater. The Cape May season had begun and Stahlhuth couldn't attend the reading, but the subject piqued her interest. She ordered a copy of the play, read it, and asked Tom Byrn to read it, wondering if he would be interested in directing.

Although this is his first time to direct for ELTC, Byrn is no stranger to the company. He's performed with ELTC since 2009, most recently in two solo shows, "Will Rogers U.S.A." and "Mr. Lincoln." He has acted at various theaters in the Philadelphia area, including, People's Light, Interact, Lantern, and Act II Playhouse, and at various theaters in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio. He's also a member of the Lincoln Center Director's Lab.

Four of the five actors are new to ELTC: Kathryn Barnhardt, Pat Dwyer, Nikki Ferry, and Mary Elizabeth Scallen. Veronique Hurley was in ELTC's "Biography."

Kathryn Barnhardt, who plays Leavitt, has performed in a variety of productions in various cities, including "The Martha War" at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and "The Cherry Orchard" in New York. She co-starred on an episode of "Law & Order: SVU" and appeared in "Boardwalk Empire."

Taking on the roles of two other real-life "computers" at the Harvard College Observatory are Mary Elizabeth Scallen and Nikki Ferry. Scallen portrays Scottish-born Williamina Fleming (1857-1911), and Ferry plays Annie Cannon (1863-1941). Fleming established the first photographic standards of magnitude used to measure the variable brightness of stars. Her work provided the foundation for the future contributions of Cannon. Scallen recently celebrated her 27th year in the resident company at People's Light, just outside Philadelphia. Other theaters where she works include Philly-based Arden, Wilma, and Lantern, and Weston Playhouse (VT) and Mill Mountain Theatre (VA). Ferry's New York credits include "Comedy of Errors" for Inwood Shakespeare Festival, and "King Lear" for Theatre 20/20. She also worked at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, St. Croix Festival Theatre, and played Queen Elizabeth 1 in "The Lost Colony."

Pat Dwyer portrays Peter Shaw who works for Edward C. Pickering, the head of the Harvard College Observatory. It is Shaw who gives the plates to and collects the data from the "computers." Dwyer's various other roles include Hugh in "Look Homeward Angel" directed by Austin Pendleton in New York, and Christopher Wren in "The Mousetrap" at Casa Manana in Fort Worth, TX.

Taking on the role of Leavitt's sister, Margaret, is Veronique Hurley, whose work in New York includes "The Tempest" and "Hunting and Gathering" at The Glass Eye. Regionally, she's performed at The Hartford Stage Company, Cape May Stage, and Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT.

"Silent Sky" runs from September 19 through October 13 at 8:00 PM, most Wednesdays through Saturdays, except there is no show on Wednesday, October 3, and there is a show on Sunday, October 7 at 7:30. The performance on Wednesday October 10 is at 2:00 PM with no show that night. ELTC performs at The First Presbyterian Church of Cape May, 500 Hughes Street, where the company is in residence.

The opening night after-show party on Wednesday, September 19, is at The Merion Inn, directly across from The First Presbyterian Church. The after-show Q&A is on Friday, September 28. Tickets are $35 general admission, $30 for seniors (age 65 and over), $20 for full-time students and military (active/retired/veteran), and anyone age 12 and under is free. For more information and to make a reservation, call 609-884-5898, e-mail eastlynneco@aol.com, or visit www.eastlynnetheater.org.

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