Next Act stages profound, important and sensitive Silent Sky

Deborah Staples is Henrietta Leavitt in Silent sky at Next Act

“We do not know where we are. “

“All I have is time. All I haven’t is time.”

It is with the search and the claim that a chronicle of the journey of Henrietta Leavitt  is taking place at Next Act Theatre in “Silent Sky,” a brilliant play by Lauren Gunderson.

Under the direction of David Cecsarini and with a cast of absolute killers,  this story of our sky and the mysteries held there is a gripping and true tale of the stars and a moving tale of ambition and single-minded dedication.

Leavitt lived around the turn of the 20th century and worked at the Harvard College Observatory in a room of women who were called “computers.” Their job was to map the galaxy based on the photographic plates taken through the giant telescope at the facility. She works in an office with Annie, (Carrie Hitchcock) and Williamina (Kelly Doherty).

That telescope is off limits to the women, much to the disgust of Leavitt (Deborah Staples).  Make no mistake about it, this is a play is a story about women, weaving in the fight for the right of women to vote to the need for women to be caretakers, to the difficult desire to join a man’s world.

Leavitt leaves her father and her loving sister Margaret (Karen Estrada) to go to Boston, full of the belief that she will be able to pursue her dream of answering the questions that roil through her mind (“All I want to know is what’s true”).

She eventually discovers and measures the relationship between the brightness of stars and the distance between them. That discovery, still in use today, allowed scientists to measure the distance from Earth to other galaxies.

It’s a thrilling story watching as Henrietta faces her loves – family, a male colleague (Reese Madigan) and, above all the vast panorama above her at night.

Ms. Staples is an absolute marvel as she takes us on her journey. She is an actor at the top of her game, a performance we’ve come to expect from her.

To say any performance is perfect is difficult but the word applies here. She’s captures the longing, the dedication, the humor and the loneliness of a woman who gazes up and asks “how far away are my stars?”

Ms. Hitchcock and Ms. Doherty fill in the mapping room with a variety that adds both strength and depth to the story.

Ms. Hitchcock continues to prove how much she was missed during her hiatus that ended a couple of years ago. Her discipline on stage is remarkable and she has the ability to blend to any situation with grace and precision.

Ms. Doherty remains one of my favorite actors of humor in the city. Her role brings lightness to the story with a sly and sarcastic style that can be withering and bring laughs that both lighten the story and move it along.

Ms. Estrada has the difficult task of living in the shadow of her hard-drivin sister, creating a domestic base from which Henrietta can be launched and come to rest as well.

This play is a beautiful story told with sensitivity and delight and the kind of thing that Next Act does as well, or better, than any other company in town. With Cecsarini at the helm, Next Act is brave and has a focus on important issues and this is another in a long line of both relevant and excellent productions.

Silent Sky runs through October 22 and information on tickets and showtimes is available at www.nextact.org.

Production Credits: Director, David Cecsarini; Scenic Design, Rick Rasmussen; Lighting and Video Design, Aaron Sherkow; Costume Design, Jason Orlenko; Sound Design, David Cecsarini; Original Music, Jenny Giering; Properties Design, Heidi Salter & Shannon Sloan-Spice; Stage Manager, Jessica Connelly; Technical Director, Michael Van Dreser.

 

About davebegel@gmail.com

Theater Critic in Milwaukee.
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