‘Silent Sky’: A woman ahead of her time

Henrietta Leavitt (Elena Wright), Annie Cannon (Sarah Dacey Charles) and Williamina Fleming (Lynne Soffer) study star plates in ‘Silent Sky.’

First of all, please understand this is a play about a real woman who lived and produced amazing information in her male-dominated (keep a woman in her place) field of astronomy in the early 20th century.
Playwright Lauren Gunderson’s “Silent Sky” gives today’s population – men and women alike – a look at what the terrain was like for women in that time and in the scientific arena.
Henrietta Leavitt (scintillating Elena Wright), a graduate astronomer, is offered what was considered a plum job for a woman (at $10.50 a week) at Harvard as a human computer, to count images on photographic plates. The information was then to be passed on to the males in “upper management.”
She makes a startling discovery that would become the basis for the work of Edwin Hubble and all of astronomy. Leavitt also discovered at least 2,400 variable stars in her career – an amazing accomplishment for a woman just trying to break the petticoat ceiling at that time. She would have probably won a Nobel Prize if they awarded it posthumously. She died at 53, just as her work was being lauded in her field.
Director Meredith McDonough works her magic with the usual TheatereWorks fine cast. Jennifer Le Blanc as Margret Leavitt, Henrietta’s loving and patient sister; Matt Citron as Peter Shaw, Henrietta’s love interest; Sarah Dacey Charles as Annie Cannon; and Lynne Soffer as Williamina Fleming are supporters in her discovery and all come through with convincing, resilient performances.
The set by scenic designer Annie Smart has the feeling of peering through a telescope. With the changing of hues of bright and dim in just the right places, lighting designer Paul Toben takes us to the heavens and then to a living room or garden.
Lovely subtle background music by Jenny Giering is in ever capable hands of resident musical director William Liberatore.
“Silent Sky” is an interesting piece of theatre with crisp dialogue about an important breakthrough that changed the way we look at stars and space – and a look at how far women have come in this 21st century.
Camille Bounds is the theatre and arts editor for Sunrise Publications.
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View
Through: Feb. 9
Details: (650) 463-1960 or visit theatreworks.org.