“Silent Sky” Gives Voice to Women Astronomers at Citadel Theatre

Silent Sky now playing at Citadel Theatre, Lake Forest. Photo by North Shore Camera Club.
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In the not-too-distant past, women in the sciences were less than full participants as their male counterparts in the discovery process. One only has to watch the popular movie, “Hidden Figures” to see firsthand that women may have had the brains and skills, but were kept out of sight, performing their calculations in small, cramped offices.

Now, Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest brings the Lauren Gunderson play, SILENT SKY to life telling the story of Henrietta Leavitt and other qualified 19th-century female astronomers employed at the Harvard Observatory who, because of their gender, were not even allowed to use the telescope. Instead, they had study the sky through photographs.

Directed by Jeff Award nominee Beth Wolf and starring Melissa Harlow as Henrietta Leavitt, the outstanding cast also includes Cameron Feagin as Williamina Fleming and Anne Lentino as Annie Cannon, Henrietta’s fellow “human computers” at Harvard Observatory as well as Adam Thatcher as Peter Shaw and Laura Michele Erle as sister Margaret Leavitt.

Cameron Feagin, Anne Lentino and Melissa Harlow in “Silver Sky.” Photo by North Shore Camera Club.

The script is humorous and warm, laying into the “menfolk” whose heads are in the sand.

Harlow is excellent as Henrietta, questioning everything, especially her male “associates” who do not see her as an equal. When romance comes a calling, it’s something she never considered, her commitment to her career coming first.

Gender issues, family responsibilities, romance, and questioning the limited knowledge of the universe all come into play. Women’s roles were severely limited as they were expected to fulfill certain roles. Even talented pianist Margaret Leavitt chose to marry and raise a family, but in her spare time created a symphony.

Kudos to set designer Trevor Dotson whose versatile set allows the complete story to be told and the incorporation of the LED screens with the lighting and sound creates the mysterious stars of the universe.

Of course, Henrietta is right and her calculations contributed to further advances that the universe is expanding and Edwin Hubbell’s discovery of additional galaxies the world never knew existed.

Scott Phelps and Ellen Phelps, founders of Citadel Theatre serve as Production Managers.

Laura Michele Erle as sister Margaret Leavitt. Photo by North Shore Camera Club.

As the audience learns more about Henrietta and her co-workers, they see the triumphs women will experience in the future, hard-fought rights that are well deserved. A triumph, indeed.  

The show is playing at Citadel Theatre 300 S. Waukegan Road in Lake Forest through March 17. For tickets, www.citadeltheatre.org or by phone at 847-735-8554, ext. 1.

The last production of the season is “Baby,” April 19 – May 19, directed by Scott Shallenbarger.

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