Through November 14|
PHOTOGRAPH 51 Jewish Repertory Theatre/Maxine & Robert Seller Theatre
If you are going to tell a story about tension between a man and a woman, it helps if you have strong performers for the role.
That’s what the Jewish Repertory Theatre has with “Photograph 51,” Kristen Tripp Kelley’s Rosalind Franklin and John Profeta’s Maurice Wilkins.
This is a story of one of those hinges in time, the time when science found the double helix, that basic structure of life of the gene.
Wilkins, Francis Crick and James Watson won the Nobel Prize for their discovery, secretly based on Franklin’s crystallography photographs, particularly Photograph 51.
Franklin was dead when the Nobel prize was awarded and the prize committee doesn’t award to the dead.
You can read that decision as part of the long history of discrimination against women who even dare to consider going into the sciences, into STEAM.
Franklin not only considered it, she did it.
From the beginning of Anna Ziegler’s play, the attitude of the stuffy men around her is clear, she’s the assistant to Profeta’s Wilkins, not the lead she expected.
In the job, she must make sure she never makes a mistake which can be endlessly pointed out in the pubs where the men hang out.
The men are intellectual hunters, knowing there is a world-wide search to understand what’s now known as the human genome and the attendant gossip.
In some ways, it’s the difference between bench scientists grinding away, as Franklin was, and the theoreticians who do science in the mind, as most of these men are.
What combines the two is “Photograph 51,” her wonderful look into the cell which lets the giddy James Watson (Adam Yellen) and the family man Francis Crick (Jacob Albarella) grope their way to understanding the Double Helix and create a marvelous model which makes the genome suddenly clear.
Franklin doesn’t know the photograph is being passed around, her skill at crystallography being used to move past her and her work.
The action swirls around her, ghosts dimly glimpsed in the fog, as the scientists work as they have for millennia trying to understand the world in which they live.
On her side are grad student Ray Gosling (Dan Torres) and Don Casper (Ray Boucher), who goes from being a Yale grad student mentored by mail by Franklin to a full scientist on a fellowship with her.
He went on to a long and distinguished scientific career.
Clearly, Ziegler is writing a defense of Franklin, of how the guys with their doctorates and labs cheated the dead woman out of her glorious due.
The show is staged in a long one-act, not letting the momentum disappear at the lobby interval.
Director Katie Mallinson keeps the story rolling, with the cast often waiting on stage for their next scene, with Franklin frequently off the stage as the men talk and maneuver.
It works well on David Dwyer’s set, with Kari Drozd costumes and Brian Cavanagh’s lighting.
The script is a little overdone, the brilliant good woman and the bad men screwing her over and her dying too young, too early to have her brilliance recognized.
Science is made by people, not all of them good people, but people usually capable of the human emotions, jealousy and greed, even greed of the mind.
With a strong script, fine cast and a wonderful production, “Photograph 51” is the first big “must see” of the theater season.
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