Having thoroughly enjoyed other works by writer Lauren Gunderson, including MRT’s production of ‘I and You’ in their 2015-2016 season, ‘Silent Sky’ was high on my list of plays to see this fall. Creatively directed by Sean Daniels, the play is based on the life and work of Harvard astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, who yearned to do, learn and discover more than the men she worked for were accustomed to allowing women to do. In developing the techniques that led to the first discovery of galaxies beyond our own, she learns just how much strength, determination and passion she is capable of and surprises everyone around her.
When I walked into the theatre, I was awestruck by the impeccably detailed and elaborate scenic design. I couldn’t stop staring and taking it all in as I awaited the start of the performance. Scenic designer James J. Fenton, along with lighting designer Brian J. Lilienthal, created a magnificent place in which the characters would soon come to life. As I scanned the theatre I noticed dozens of various shaped lights that encircled not only the stage, but extended out above the heads of the audience. While I assumed, based on the subject of the play, that these lights would represent the sky and stars in some way, I was curious to see exactly how and when they would be illuminated. Trust me when I say, that moment is one of the most spectacularly crafted moments of the show.
The first act flew by as the audience became fully engulfed in story being told by the charismatic five member cast. Marvelously lead by Alexis Bronkovic, as Astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, they transported us back to the early 1900’s, just as the women’s rights movement was ramping up and traditional gender roles where being challenged. Bronkovic is joined by Julia Brothers as Williamina Fleming, Tom Coiner as Peter Shaw, Victoria Grace as Margaret Leavitt and Polly Lee as Annie Cannon. The chemistry and camaraderie amongst this cast made their characters and their performances even more believable and enjoyable. The playful and affectionate relationship between sisters Henrietta and Margaret, Bronkovic and Grace, was portrayed just right. It was easy to accept them as adoring sisters. Bronkovic, Brothers, and Lee were spirited in many of their interactions as Henrietta, Williamina and Annie. Though at times they squabbled back and forth, there were also many amusing comments made and loving moments shared throughout their scenes together. Coiner as Peter, supervisor to Henrietta, played his awkward yet flirtatious scenes with her in a way that was endearing and had the audience hoping the pair would end up together. These five actors portrayed their characters with truth, conviction, raw emotion and clear passion.
The second act brought changes in relationships, the increasing presence of the women’s fight for a vote and equal rights, as well as important and life changing discoveries. It further solidified for the audience the strength of the women in this play and their determination to make progress not only in the field of astronomy and science, but for their gender and for future generations of women. It was inspiring to witness. As the play reached its climax and began to conclude sniffles could be heard throughout the theatre, and tissues could be seen dabbing eyes as many in the audience wiped away tears.
Though the story is based in the scientific world, the writing is full of honest humor and relatable characters. It is a story full of discovery, laughter and heart. This production is stunning from start to finish and I highly recommend seeing it. It is overall, one of the most beautiful productions I have ever seen. ©
‘Silent Sky’ plays at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, located at 50 East Merrimack Street Lowell, MA, until November 12th, 2017. Tickets range from $73-$26 with discounts available for groups, students, seniors, Lowell residents, and military service members. To purchase tickets or find more information visit www.mrt.org or call 978-654-4678.
For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/
Photo Credit: From Left to Right: Julia Brothers, Polly Lee, Alexis Bronkovic, Victoria Grace, and Tom Coiner in 'Silent Sky'. Photo by Meghan Moore.