Theater review: Transylvania University’s Silent Sky

Silent Sky Transylvania University Feb 19, 2019 Photo by Joseph Rey Au

Thursday, Feb. 22, was the opening night of “Silent Sky.” The play tells the story of Henrietta Leavitt, an astronomer who discovered the relationship between period and luminosity of Cepheids.

Over the course of about an hour and 45 minutes, Henrietta (Madison Plucknett) passionately pursues her star “spanking,” disregards her sister Margaret (Paige Barricklow), and resists the urge to declare her feelings for Mr. Shaw (JD Lovell).

Madison Plucknett and Paige Barricklow
Transylvania University
Feb. 19, 2019
Photo by Joseph Rey Au

The only shift in set and props is done during intermission and even that was minimal. Because the focus is on the heavens, the stage is unadorned which suggests that Henrietta is unconcerned with the immediacy of her life. Margaret herself becomes a part of the scenery as she fades into the background and Henrietta distances herself.

The crowning jewel of the set is what I like to call “The-Shopping-for-Dining-Room-Light-Fixtures-at-Home-Depot-Aisle.” Various styles of lights hang over the stage, probably because real stars are too expensive. They twinkle romantically when Henrietta has her major breakthrough. I might steal them when the show ends.

Madison Plucknett, Elizabeth Salamanca, and JD Lovell
Photo by Joseph Rey Au

There is quite a bit of humor injected into the script, often in the form of an incisive quip about the patriarchy. Elizabeth Salamanca is hilarious as Williamina Fleming. The unpredictable strength of her Scottish accent from scene to scene only added to last night’s performance.

The show must go on. And it certainly did, even when Madison Plucknett took a tumble over Henrietta’s star plates and into a coat hanger. She played it off wonderfully by telling Paige that she had been meaning to get those boxes out of the way.

Though the production is about the power of women, the unseen figures of Dr. Pickering and Henrietta’s father remind the audience of the persistence of gender politics. So, that’s kind of a bummer.

Eileen Bunch as Annie Cannon Transylvania University Feb 19, 2019 Photo by Joseph Rey Au

By the end, I found that I was extremely frustrated with Henrietta. She abandons her sister and then does quite a bit of whining when it turns out she needs her. Margaret is a constant in Henrietta’s life, just like the stars she loves. She loves them so much that she sacrifices everything to pursue them. This reminds us to get our heads out of the clouds and live our lives at least some of the time.

“Silent Sky” is definitely worth the money. Or, it would be if the tickets weren’t free. Showtimes are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.