How do you measure vast beauty, prove that the universe is more than just a single galaxy, and is among billions of brilliant others? Colonial Player’s production of “Silent Sky” observes a dazzling flash in history where a relatively unknown woman would later launch the career of the famous Edwin Hubble into scientific cannon. This astronomer’s name is Henrietta Swan Leavitt, a hidden star in time and space.
As Henrietta discovers, the answer to her astronomical conundrum is simple and apparent. This review is simple and my thoughts will be apparent – go see “Silent Sky” one, two, three, or as many times possible during its one month run. It is as thrilling as a clear, nighttime sky during a dreamy summer and a wonder to behold.
“Silent Sky”’s expertly cast five person ensemble worked in pure harmony with each other. Emilie Zelle Holmstock led the cast into the heavens as Henrietta. Her dynamic performance is impressive. The play covers the entirety of Henrietta’s career and even beyond. Holmstock begins with a stubborn and young energy, which will make her an instant hero for young viewers. Not surprisingly, she runs in patriarchal and arbitrary bureaucracies at Harvard, and her energy shifts into tenacity. Meanwhile, her sister Margaret (the lovely Robin Schwartz) acts as a contrast. Schwartz effectively stokes the antagonistic force that haunts Henrietta – the importance of tending to the home or relentlessly pursuing a successful career.
Go see “Silent Sky” one, two, three, or as many times possible during its one month run. It is as thrilling as a clear, nighttime sky during a dreamy summer and a wonder to behold.
Upon arrival at Harvard, we are introduced to three colleagues that would shape Henrietta’s success. Peter Shaw (Tyler Heroux) is a squirrelly love interest that is particularly bad at leaving good impressions, yet is adorably skilled at being Henrietta’s fanboy. Heroux’s progressive maturity of the character is well done and seamless. Annie Cannon (the triumphant Shannon Benil) and Williamina Fleming (the sharp-tongued Beth Terranova) are perfectly polar forces that propel Henrietta’s confidence into just the right orbit. Benil’s command of her character segued gracefully into Annie Cannon’s later interest in the Suffragette movement. It wouldn’t be surprising if you found yourself wanting Benil or Cannon running for office in the near future. And of course, the marvelous Miss Terranova is a supernova among comic actors. The entire mood of the play changes when she sarcastically declares in a biting accent “we are the dirt from which mighty oaks grow.” This is not just a historical piece. It is a friendly, warm, and often quite funny take on the ups and downs of a successful career.
Colonial Players has a unique theatre in the round space that can be challenging for an actor, but intimate and engaging for an audience. Director Gwen Morton should be applauded for her blocking and vision for her actors. The ensemble rose to the challenge and never hid an expression, exasperation, or eccentricity from their absorbed viewers. The design team utilized projections and special lighting effects to create a planetarium within a theatre. The effects were impressive, but don’t get too caught up in the spectacle because the acting is more than enough to keep your attention throughout the two hour runtime.
“Silent Sky” is an absolute achievement. Playwright Lauren Gunderson provides us with insight to the proto-modern woman. Henrietta juggles the labels of “woman,” “sister,” “computer,” “wife,” and the most prized, “astronomer.” It’s up to the audience to decide her most valuable accomplishment, but in the end, Henrietta would be more than happy to just be a satellite among the stars.
Running Time: About 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.
“Silent Sky” plays through February 2nd, 2019 at The Colonial Players of Annapolis in Annapolis, Maryland. For tickets or more information, click here.