Lydia Marcus-Staff Writer
Galaxies speckle the floor and nebulae flood the ceiling.
The stage is bare at first, but it will soon be filled with five vibrant characters, five beings of bursting light.
These beings will tell the story of Henrietta Leavitt (played by junior Ellen Dengah), a Harvard computer and astronomer in the early 1900s.
Opening on Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m, Silent Sky is in essence a story about finding meaning in life and finding one’s place in the world. Throughout the play, Henrietta navigates the sky, romance, family responsibilities and the transition of women’s role in science at the turn of the century.
Dengah is radiant as Henrietta, conveying the astronomer’s passion and curiosity with animated speech and brisk movement. Margaret Leavitt, played by junior Annie Sears, balances her sister Henrietta’s single-minded enthusiasm for outer space with sensible and sensitive dedication to family matters. Sears and Dengah portray sisterly affection effortlessly.
Much of the play takes place at Harvard, where Henrietta joins “Pickering’s Harem,” an all-female department of human computers who catalogue the sky. The department is overseen by Peter Shaw, played by freshman Harrison Burns. Burns’s rendition of Peter is comically fluster-able. Henrietta has two co-workers in the “harem,” as well. Senior Jen Allen plays housekeeper-turned-human-computer Williamina Fleming with warm joviality. Sophomore Anna Jordan plays a demanding but good-spirited Annie Cannon, who is as remarkable an astronomer as Henrietta, though her passions are more subdued.
Passion and awe are consistent themes throughout the show, rubbing off on its audience as they watch. Audience members will walk out of Te Paske Theatre, into the night, with their necks craned upward, looking at the stars and pondering humankind’s place in the universe.