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Silent Sky
a Historical Drama
by Lauren Gunderson

COMPANY : Staged Right Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Lilburn Square
ID# 5123

SHOWING : September 08, 2017 - September 17, 2017



Staged Right Theatre presents Silent Sky, by Lauren Gunderson.

When Henrietta Leavitt begins work at the Harvard Observatory in the early 1900s, she isn’t allowed to touch a telescope or express an original idea. Instead, she joins a group of women “computers,” charting the stars for a renowned astronomer who calculates projects in “girl hours” and has no time for the women’s probing theories. As Henrietta, in her free time, attempts to measure the light and distance of stars, she must also take measure of her life on Earth, trying to balance her dedication to science with family obligations and the possibility of love. The true story of 19th-century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt explores a woman’s place in society during a time of immense scientific discoveries, when women’s ideas were dismissed until men claimed credit for them. Social progress, like scientific progress, can be hard to see when one is trapped among earthly complications; Henrietta Leavitt and her female peers believe in both, and their dedication changed the way we understand both the heavens and Earth.

Tickets are available online or at the door.

Director Starshine Stanfield
Henrietta Leavitt Adelle Drahos
Peter Shaw Joseph Johnson
Williamina Fleming Ilene Miller
Annie Cannon Christen C. Orr
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A Galaxy of Stars
by playgoer
Monday, September 11, 2017
Theatrical Outfit’s production of "Silent Sky" a couple of years ago featured a massive, magnificent set by the Curley-Clay sisters. Staged Right’s production goes for a simpler set design that suits Lauren Gunderson’s play equally well. The collective set design team of Karl Dickey and the female cast members sets the action on an elliptical playing space, painted with two orbs swirling with subtle colors and a band of white that gloriously suggests a map of the Milky Way. Simple set furnishings are moved on and off for individual scenes: stanchions suggest seaboard scenes, table and chair suggest house scenes, and three standing desks at one end and two sides of the ellipse create the Harvard Observatory workplace scenes.

The costume design by Joseph Edward Johnson (the sole male cast member) does a fine job of suggesting the early years of the twentieth century, albeit without corsets. Props (Lea Herring) work well, without trying to duplicate historical accuracy to the nth degree. The lighting design (lighting consultation by Bryan Mitchell), hampered by the need for two stands of lighting instruments on opposite sides of the room, does a very nice job of illuminating the action without blinding audience members sitting directly across from a bank of lights, and also provides some subtle effects. Sound is beautifully synchronized with action, particularly in a scene with piano playing in the background. In a temporary venue like this (an empty storefront space), technical complexity can’t be expected, and the play does not require it. Nevertheless, the technical components of this production impress.

Director Starshine Stanfield has done a fabulous job of blocking a production in the round (or ellipse, in this case). Movement is fluid and frequent, ensuring that all parts of the audience get to see more faces than backs. There’s an energy to the blocking that mirrors the swirling gasses of a nebula that the floor painting also suggests. But it’s the shaping of the play’s emotions and beats that really shows Ms. Stanfield’s skill as a director.

The cast are all capable. Ilene Miller gives us a Williamina Fleming with a hint of a Scottish accent and a boundless outpouring of good nature that endears. Christen Orr’s Annie Cannon balances Williamina with a level-headed flintiness that covers the warm heart of a woman whose goals and ideals drive her life. Kendra Gilbert, while a little young to successfully manage the transition of years called for in the script, provides a real-life perspective to action that is otherwise firmly planted in the stars of astronomical science. Joseph Edward Johnson, as supervisor Peter Shaw, is shorter than the typical leading man, but builds believability with every interaction he has onstage.

The standout is Adelle Drahos in the central role of Henrietta Leavitt. Here is a woman driven by the need to explore and comprehend, yet hampered by the sexist conventions of society. Ms. Drahos gives Henrietta tremendous dignity, showing us how life’s circumstances affect a single-minded individual in unexpected ways. It’s not a showy, powerhouse performance in any way, but is as deeply affecting as could be wished. In her portrayal, Lauren Gunderson’s protagonist is brought stunningly to life. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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