Sunday, February 25, 2024

Theatre in the Round - Silent Sky

I think my lesson here is I can't even keep up day-to-day.  That was never really the goal, so I don't think I'll try.  But I realize I totally forgot the story about the guy down in the river valley who looked and smelled like my neighbor and his corgi if he had white guy dreads and smelled of so much reefer it lingered for half a mile.  Dankest T. 

Friday, my wife and I went to Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson at Theatre in the Round.  

Poot missed the last play, The Seagull.  I am generally not a fan of Chekhov, but it was an excellent adaptation.  Parts of it were funny.  I've never met funny Chekhov.  Sure, it ended in the typical way for a Chekhov play with a gun and death, but until that happened, it didn't mire in being morose.  It's interesting that per Wikipedia, it was originally intended as a comedy, that was then retooled to be a tragedy. And before the retooling, it was received so poorly that Chekhov quit playwriting for a while. Came through loud and clear.  So much better than Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, or The Cherry Orchard in my opinion, although perhaps that has to do with my encounters with those productions being off-college theater.  Is that what it's called when they do Uncle Vanya in a one off large room full of folding chairs and a portable video screen for the trees at the University of Minnesota rather than in the main theater?  My primarily memory of Uncle Vanya was that room, almost falling asleep several times, only to be jolted away from passing out by gun shots.

I had NO idea what to expect from Silent Sky. I stayed away from any descriptions in order to give myself a surprise.  Lauren Gunderson's site says: "The true story of 19th-century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt explores a woman’s place in society during a time of immense scientific and heart-bound discoveries. With music and math bursting forth onstage, Henrietta and her female peers change the way we understand both the heavens and Earth."  I joked elsewhere that it was an educational play that would have been right at home on the BBC if you'd dropped a Tardis in the middle of the stage and had some interfering aliens lurking off stage.  But despite that bit of being flippant, it was wonderful.  It captured the raw effort that went into astronomy and physics in the pre-electronics days, the challenges women faced [including no vote] even when clearly more talented and inspired/passionate than the men they worked with, the lack of opportunity, and the challenges of family and love and the outsized impact they had in a world where travel and communication were so much slower, and the awe at opening up the universe as larger and more amazing than had been believed previously.  Great staging with a very sparse set of props, mostly the rotating desks of the women working for the college, that served using the lights and walls to try and give the sense of where the characters were looking and striving, not what they were doing in their day-to-day lives. Although the lesson that even with all of that "out there" there's still a need to be grounded and enjoy what's in front of you was loud and clear.

The cast was exceptional.  Eva Gemlo as Henrietta, Wini Froelich as Williamina, and Rachel Postle as Annie had real chemistry and brought a toughness to their roles that evolved from having each other's backs as women to having each other's backs as women and friends.  Ben Qualley as Peter the co-worker and love interest and Clare Rolinger as Margaret the sister rounded out the cast.  Peter was believable as a man of the times who was locked to scientific consensus but learned to open his mind at first because of attraction, but then, when life got in the way, as a friend and fellow astrophysicist.

Thank you to the theatre for an enjoyable night.  With the Old Log closing after 84 years, it might now be the oldest non-academic theater in the Twin Cities, 71 years.

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