“Silent Sky,” the story of a real-life female astronomer whose research in the early 1900s altered everything we knew about the universe, will have its world premiere at South Coast Repertory tonight through May 1.
The play, by Lauren Gunderson is an SCR commission that mingles science and history with a dose of feminism and romantic love. It’s the story of Henrietta Leavitt (Monette Magrath), a Massachusetts pastor’s daughter who leaves her home and beloved sister for a job at Harvard University’s observatory. There she maps the night sky by studying photographic plates and meets Peter Shaw, the head astronomer’s apprentice, who makes her re-think her vow never to marry.
Despite her lowly position and limited access to scientific equipment, Henrietta makes an amazing discovery. But will she get the credit? Will her health give out before she gets the answers she’s seeking? Will her family obligations keep her from the man she loves?
“We’re delighted to be working with Lauren again,” said Producing Artistic Director David Emmes of playwright Gunderson. “She has a real gift for creating vivid, theatrical worlds from historical incidents.
“Lauren finds these women who played important roles in science and reveals not just the work they did but who they were as people. She’s brought them back to life as fully-formed characters whom we care about and want to follow on their journeys.”
This is Gunderson’s second commission at SCR: Her first, “Emilie,” also examined a real-life female scientist who never received proper credit for her ideas. In fact, Gunderson has developed a reputation as a writer of science-themed plays. She holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU Tisch, and her play Exit, Pursued By A Bear is having a three-city rolling world premiere at Synchronicity Theatre, Crowded Fire and ArtsWest.
“Silent Sky” is being directed by Anne Justine D’Zmura, who earlier this season directed SCR’s “Sideways Stories from Wayside School.” D’Zmura is head of directing at Cal State Long Beach and a former resident director at the Guthrie Theatre, where she directed “Peer Gynt,” “Bert’s Folly,” “Billy and Dago” and “Poster of the Cosmos.”
The cast is made up of a mix of fresh and familiar faces.
In the lead role, Magrath is making her debut on the SCR stage. She has performed at regional theatres across the country and recently appeared on several episodes of Showtime’s “Weeds.”
She is joined by two other SCR newcomers: Nick Toren (Broadway’s “The Elephant Man”) as Peter Shaw and Erin Cottrell (“Guiding Light”) as Henrietta’s musically talented sister, Margaret.
Rounding out the cast are SCR regulars Amelia White (a Broadway veteran last seen at SCR as Mrs. Tarleton in “Misalliance”) and Colette Kilroy (SCR’s “Safe in Hell,” TV’s “The Profiler”).