Theater Review: Silent Sky

Kendra Jo Brook as Henrietta Swan Leavitt. Photo by Cliff Roles.
Kendra Jo Brook as Henrietta Swan Leavitt. Photo by Cliff Roles.
Dennis "Mitch" Maley
SARASOTA — Hidden Figures meets 9 to 5 in the Asolo Rep's latest production, Lauren Gunderson's Silent Sky, a comedic drama that excels on both fronts.

Silent Sky tells the story of Henrietta Swan Leavitt, an astronomer whose primary contribution to the field was the discovery of the relationship between luminosity and the period of Cepheid variables (a star that pulsates). Leavitt's discovery enabled scientists to measure distance and better understand the nature of the universe and many astronomers whose names are better known built upon her work.

Silent Sky details Leavitt's journey from the daughter of a rural preacher to her work at Harvard College Observatory, where women were allowed to do the math while the use of the college's "Great Refractor" telescope was strictly thought of as men's work.

The play is tightly paced and benefits from hilarious dialog among actors who display perfect timing, resulting in every funny line landing big laughs. 

Kendra Jo Brook is downright delightful as Leavitt, gracing her with an energy true to the passion and perseverance attested to by the astronomer's legacy. Suzanne Grodner gives a wonderful performance as Annie Cannon, the no-nonsense head of the computing team and her chemistry with Lise Bruneau's Williamina Fleming is a definite strong point. Fleming, a Scottish housekeeper turned "computer" plays the funny woman to Cannon's straight shooter and gets the most of the play's many laughs.

Christian Douglass turns in a solid performance as their "boss," Peter Shaw, who spends most of his time attempting to avoid the wrath of his more talented subordinates by staying out of their way. Zoya Martin plays Leavitt's sister, Margaret, providing a near-constant connection with the two very different worlds tugging Leavitt.

Milagros Ponce de Leon's set is first-rate and benefits from excellent lighting courtesy of Rui Rita, while Ivania Stack contributes period-perfect costumes. In a world where scientific discovery is once again challenging long-held norms amid academic unease at the transition, Silent Sky seems far more relevant than one would have imagined. 

Silent Sky runs through March 5 at the Mertz Theater in the FSU Center for the Performing Arts. Click here for schedule and ticket information.
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