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Review: Silent Sky

Run, walk, ride, saddle up, drive, bicycle, if you must, but get yourself out to Geneseo to take in Richmond Hill Players’ current production of “Silent Sky” by Lauren Gunderson, superbly directed by Jennifer Kingry. Oh, and be sure to take your daughters with you.

Gunderson’s absolutely stunning script is based upon the real-life, early 20th century astronomer, Henrietta Leavitt, and her relentless quest to literally determine where we are in the universe. Daughter of a preacher from Wisconsin and Radcliffe College graduate, Leavitt is invited to Harvard Observatory to join a team of women who are considered human computers. But, because she is female, her ideas on astronomy are summarily dismissed and she isn’t even allowed to look through the lens of Harvard’s telescope. Her research showed how far away the stars are from Earth and informed the work of Edwin Hubble and many other scientists; her findings are used to this day and she did all this before women were even allowed to vote.

According to Kingry’s program notes, Gunderson applied a somewhat liberal amount of poetic license regarding the characters surrounding Leavitt. She also employs a fluid progression of time spanning about 20 years. It results in a masterful, sympathetic, and inspiring script that portrays a brilliant, naïve and passionate woman whose unswerving hunt for meaning strains her kinship with her family and derails a romantic relationship with a bashful suitor. Through it all, and despite it all, she triumphs. Male chauvinism cannot stop her.

To say Kady Patterson portrays Henrietta Leavitt is an understatement. Kady Patterson IS Henrietta Lovett. Her performance was simply transcendent; I literally had chills during the closing scene.

There are no weak members in this cast. The other female computers were brought to life by Terri Nelson as stodgy leader, Annie Cannon, and Diane Greenwood as the feisty Williamina Fleming. Leavitt’s fictional suitor, Peter Shaw, was portrayed by Kevin Maynard and Leavitt’s sister, Margaret, the counterpoint to Henrietta’s feminist path, was played by Elizabeth Melville.

Another feature brought in by Kingry is the use of a massive projection screen which virtually immersed us in Leavitt’s rapture at the vastness of space and mystery of the stars.

Remember I mentioned to bring your daughters? I made a new friend at this show: nine year old Elise. After the show, I asked Elise what SHE got out of this show. “The power of women,” she told me.

Amen, Elise. Amen. As Leavitt utters at one point, “Wonder will always get us there.”

“Silent Sky” continues at Richmond Hill Players in Geneseo Thursday, July 21st through Saturday, July 23rd at 7:30 pm and Sunday, July 24th at 6:00 pm.