Main Street Theater brings a Texas premiere “Silent Sky” for the inaugural performance in their newly renovated space.
“Silent Sky” is a Texas premiere and is a perfect production to highlight some of the key renovations done by Main Street Theatre. Playwright Lauren Gunderson has written an intelligent, thought provoking and engaging play. The company and founding artistic director Rebecca Greene Udden made a smart choice by bringing this production to the stage in Houston. All elements from staging, costumes and set design work to create a stellar production. Before the production even begins, audiences are already sitting in anticipation due to the impressive new space and artistic choices made.
This play mixes historical facts with fictional storylines, like many of the best dramatic works. On the surface this tells the fascinating story of female astronomer, Henrietta Leavitt (Shannon Emerick), whose research at the Harvard College Observatory in the early 1900s was used to advance modern theories and discoveries concerning our galaxy. Like all historically inspired plays and stories, this intermixes both fact and fiction to engage and enlighten audiences. Playwright Gunderson mixes Henrietta’s struggle with intellectual work with that of the emotional struggle with family and love.
Emerick, Director of Marketing and Development for Main Street, perfectly portrays Henrietta showing her passion, drive and fiery demeanor. Emerick truly lights up the stage and is an ideal leading lady both shining at key times and sharing the stage with her fellow cast members. Emerick has an unassuming stage presence, not demanding or commanding, but gentle and intriguing. She perfectly blends into the role of Henrietta, that it feels like it could have been written for her and she shines as brightly as the stars her character studied.
Main Street’s production not only succeeds because of Emerick performance, but also because each cast member shines just as brightly as her. Elizabeth Marshall Black, plays Annie Cannon, and Claire Hart-Palumbo, plays Williamina Fleming who are fellow female workers at Harvard with Henrietta. Black’s character is stern and task focused just as she is on stage. Her character is fierce and follows the rules and she excels due to these qualities. Black does the same on stage using her best qualities to highlight her talent with this performance. Hart-Palumbo’s character is jovial and light-hearted. Her character feels like a bit of fresh air, just as Hart-Palumbo feels on stage. She is easy going and her presence perfectly complements her other cast members. Jennifer Dean plays Margaret Leavitt, Henrietta’s sister, who has a similar stage presence as Hart-Palumbo. Dean is a true delight to watch on stage as her character grows up and watches as her sister follows her dream and she does the same in her own life.
James Mohaghan, the only male cast member, plays Peter Shaw, a Harvard astronomer who does not give the ladies the time of day until Ms. Leavitt arrives. Shaw is a cookie cutter male of the time period, believing only men should be allowed in the arena of thought and that they are the only ones capable of critical or scientific thought. Slowly over the course of the play, Shaw becomes infatuated with Leavitt which creates the emotion as the pair struggle with their status and feelings. Mohaghan is a pleasure to watch as his character struggles with his heart, mind and social status. He has both a tender and stern personality that draws in the audience as he and Emerick muddle through their character’s love affair. They are both a pleasure to watch solo and as a pair. The entire cast is flawless in this skillfully acted and executed production.
This play is the kind of story that is both unassuming and engrossing all at the same time. Each actor leaves their impression on the audience as they masterfully perform this inspiring story. Though the play doesn’t have big bells and whistles to draw in audiences, it proves how a good story, skillful acting and a moment in history can combine to be one of the best experiences you could hope to have in a theater.
“Silent Sky” runs now through November 29th. For ticket information, visit their website at www.mainstreettheater.com or call 713-524-6706. Be sure to check out the rest of the upcoming production by Main Street Theater and see what their 40th anniversary season has in store.