BWW Review: SILENT SKY Twinkles Brightly, Shines Light on History
Lauren Gunderson's Silent Sky is the factual story of astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, whose turn-of-the-century career had an important effect on science and discovery throughout the 20th and into the 21st centuries. When Henrietta leaves her family, the church, and all she's ever known in Wisconsin to pursue work at the Harvard Observatory, she quickly becomes disillusioned at the menial role she is assigned alongside other female computers, reporting and maintaining a stellar archive with data she collects from photographic plates. The women's male overseer and other male counterparts measure the women's projects in "girl hours" while racking up accolades for their own praise and career advancement. It's consistent, but not creative work, the women agree, but for Henrietta, a "star-finding fiend" who is not allowed to use the telescope, it is simply not enough. She begins working overtime to satisfy her own intellectual curiosity, but even as Henrietta disregards the expectations of society - marrying and tending to home and children - she does find that hearts, like stars, can be blinding. Her genius, underappreciated at the time because of her gender, is fully recognized and lauded in this sweet and smart contemporary play.
Insight Theatre finishes out their 11th season with a production that leaves one walking away knowing that indeed, "The sky's the limit." This cast is strong on Girl Power with Gwendolyn Wotawa as an enchanting and funny Henrietta, her humanity shining through with unpretentious passion. She is complemented by a charming and equally passionate sister Margaret, played by Jennifer Theby-Quinn, whose musical talents are on full display in this show.
Elizabeth Ann Townsend and Chrissy Calkins Steele, as Annie Cannon and Williamina Fleming respectively, are accomplished in their roles as Henrietta's coworkers. Steele manages a convincing Scottish accent and plays an outstanding support for Henrietta, while Townsend garners laughs and admiration for her political progression into a suffragette who eventually even wears pants (gasp!). Alex Freeman rounds out the cast, with his sensitive, sincere portrayal of Henrietta's greatest admirer, Peter Shaw. All are strong in their roles and are well-cast. This warm, satisfying production, directed by Insight's Artistic Director, Maggie Ryan, speaks to self-respect, achievement, and sisterhood and is a must-see for women. And girls. And men and boys, too.
See Silent Sky through November 4 at Kransberg Arts Center. For information and tickets, visit Insight Theatre Company.