Many who have logged some hours in scientific research and studying scientific journals will immediately recognize the brilliance of playwright Anne Ziegler’s use of scientific reasoning in her script to pillory the sexism in this tale’s core.
Like a Greek Chorus with a nagging tone, all the scientific men in Rosalind Franklin’s story, ask variants of the question in which any scientific hypothesis is born and/or gestates—What if?...
Each of these men—the three that arguably defrauded her from winning the Nobel Prize (Alex Goodrich as James Watson; Nicholas Harazin as Francis Crick and Nathan Hosner as Mauric Wilkins), her long suffering graduate student assistant (Gabriel Ruiz as Ray Gosling), and the man who with better timing might have been the rescuing Pierre to her Marie Curie (Yousef Sultani as Don Caspar)—are perched like canaries on PHOTOGRAPH 51’S spectacular set that reminds of double helices, carbon molecule diagrams, a screen for projected computations, and a fast shot that might be electricity, atoms on the march or just the psychic charge of scientific discovery (Scenic Designer Arnel Sancianco). To paraphrase, they ask—
WHAT IF she had tried to dress with more feminine style?
WHAT IF she had not been so off-putting to her colleagues and had tried to cozy up more?
WHAT IF she had been born in another time?
And the always present elephant-in-the-room question—WHAT IF she had been a man?
If you know your Nobel Prize history, and especially if you have endured reading the sophomoric and self-aggrandizing account by Watson of how he and Crick “discovered” the double helix design of DNA, you already know how the story ends. A quick read of the program notes before curtain will similarly bring you up to speed. Neither though, in this writer’s view, will prepare you for the emotional wallop of this production that seems to come out of nowhere, even though you’ve seen the train coming since the opening lines when Hosner as Dr. Wilkins refuses to call his female co-equal colleague “Dr.” Franklin (Chaon Cross), sticking instead to the patriarchal “Miss”.
The entire cast shines, and especially for this writer, Hosner as Wilkins whose finale What If? question so movingly snatches the story out of scientific history into a compelling tale of the heart. .
The timing in this performance shows an expert touch by Director Vanessa Stalling. If you allow yourself a moment in the 90 minutes performance to take a half step back and focus on just how much exposition about the scientific mens’ club and the science itself is packed into this script it’s somewhat breathtaking.
How you experience this piece of herstory is likely affected by when and where you came of age in the cycles of feminist achievement and backlash. For this female writer—a one-time laboratory assistant for a former nun biochemist who later became Dean of Natural Sciences at a major US university while at the same time working half-time in a London research lab— PHOTOGRAPH 51 is a daguerreotype snapshot of where we came from not so long ago.
Send every middle schooler to Court Theatre!
But were it possible for every CPS middle school student to see this play??? Hopefully parents of bright girls keen on science will run to get tickets and start what should be the talk every girl gets.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Playwright: Anna Ziegler
Director: Vanessa Sterling
Cast: Chaon Cross (Rosalind Franklin), Alex Goodrich (James Watson), Nicholas Harazin (Francis Crick), Nathan Hosner (Maurice Wilkins), Gabriel Ruiz (Ray Gosling), and Yousof Sultani (Don Caspar).
Creative Team: Arnel Sancianco (scenic design), Mieka van der Ploeg (costume design), Keith Parham (lighting design), Jeffrey Levin (sound design), Paul Deziel (projection design) and Eva Breneman (dialect). The stage manager is Erin Albrecht.
Thru February 17
Wednesdays: 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays: 7:30 p.m.
Fridays: 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays: 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays: 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
5535 S. Ellis Ave.