A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW
Theatre Jacksonville opened its first play of 2019 with Laure Gunderson’s “Silent Sky,” sponsored by Delores Barr Weaver’s Forever Event Fund. It will run through January 27, 2019. The theatre is located at 2032 San Marco Boulevard, in Jacksonville, Florida. Visit theatrejax.com for additional information or call 904-396-4425 for reservations.
“Silent Sky” is one of the most thought-provoking plays of the year. Good theatre has the responsibility to educate as well as to entertain, and the play is based on a historical character and her amazing accomplishments. “Silent Sky” is a history lesson shared so gracefully that you will scarcely realize you have been schooled. It is directed with assurance and a comprehensive understanding of the obstacles the characters face by Roxanna Lewis, who is well known in the theatre world for her broad body of work. Theatre Jacksonville patrons may recall her work as a director in two past productions: “Peter and the Starcatcher” and “The Triangle Factory Fire Project.”
The play is a trip back in time to 1900 – 1920 in America, before women could vote and before the expectation of meaningful work for them outside the home existed. We are assisted in the journey by costumer Tracy Olin’s period clothing. The story is that of Henrietta Swan Leavitt, a Radcliffe graduate, who becomes an astronomer at Harvard College Observatory. Henrietta and her journey to the stars is portrayed elegantly by Grace Bryan in her first Theatre Jacksonville appearance.
Henrietta leaves her home in Wisconsin to take a job which pays 25 cents an hour (roughly equivalent to $7.50 in today’s dollars). Her job is not glamorous; she was expecting to use a telescope to study the universe. Instead, she will be working along with other women as a “computer,” endlessly cataloging information taken from glass plates of telescope images. Women are not allowed to touch the lab’s telescope; the images are captured by male astronomers.
Despite her disappointment, Henrietta finds she loves the challenge of the job and enjoys working with her two colleagues. Danielle Dobies portrays Annie Cannon, a strong feminist; she has been seen previously on this stage as Gabriella in “Boeing Boeing” and Sunny in “The Last Night of Ballyhoo.” Lauren McPherson portrays Williamina Fleming, her other friend, with a superb Scottish accent; she was last seen at TJ as Catherine of Aragon in “Wolf Hall.”
Actress Kelby Siddons is Henrietta’s younger sister Margaret, who remains in Wisconsin to marry and raise a family while assisting her father in his position as a minister. She plays the organ and sings lovely solos. As an actress, Siddons has been on many of our local stages, including appearances in “Amadeus” with the Jacksonville Symphony and “Angels in America” at Players by the Sea.”
The only male in the play is Peter Shaw, an apprentice to the top astronomer. Matthew Tompkins is excellent in this low-key role of a man not overly sure of himself, especially when it comes to women. Matt appeared on stage here in 2016 in “Pride and Prejudice.”
We don’t want to give away too much of the plot so will say only that Henrietta’s discoveries were instrumental in leading the way for others to measure the distances to faraway galaxies.
The set by Tim Watson is truly a stairway to the stars. You will look at it before the show with a curious eye. Just how does it work? And you will applaud its design at the end of the show.
“Silent Sky” has a brilliant cast that captures the dreams of those who are forever looking up. The performances are as intelligent and convincing as you are ever likely to come across. These are characters you can like! Don’t miss it!
The technical production team included Roxanna Lewis (Director), Tim Watson (Technical Director, Scenic Design, Lighting Design), Tracy Anne Olin (Costume Design), Jonathan Scherf (Graphic Design), Brady Corum (Assistant Technical Director), Michelle Kindy (Production Manager), Ron Shreve (Stage Manager), Jenny Giering (Sound Design), Audie Gibson (Light Board Operator), and Mark Rubens (Sound Board Operator).