Central Square's "Photograph 51": Developing Risk

Stacy Fischer in "Photograph 51"
(photo: Maggie Hall)

I love the shapes of things”. So spoke British scientist Rosalind Franklin. That statement expressed in concrete terms her focus on determining the form that would become known as the deoxyribonucleic acid molecule's double helix, otherwise known by us mere mortals as DNA. The year was 1952, a watershed date in the development of modern science's discovery of the existence and shape of DNA. That eureka moment led to the awarding of the Nobel Prize for its discoverers. Or did it? Three male scientists were granted the award, ignoring the demonstrable fact that their claim to have been the first and only discoverers was a sham, given the role of one female scientist, the completely overlooked British biophysicist Franklin. In a word, she was robbed. How that gradually, insidiously, inevitably happened is the crux of the current offering at Central Square Theatre, Photograph 51 by playwright Anna Zeigler. As the character of Franklin herself says in the play, “we see everything except sometimes what is right in front of us”. And for not taking that leap as opposed to more deliberate study, she was ignored.

Josh Gluck & Stacy Fischer in "Photograph 51"
(photo: Maggie Hall )

It was Zeigler's intention to right that wrong, at long last. Now, in its thirtieth season, along with commemorating Central Stage Theatre's tenth anniversary, Nora Theatre has mounted the play, with all of its timeliness intact and then some. It's also a production of the Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT. Interestingly, it's the second time Nora Theatre has presented this play (the first was only six years ago). The title refers to the x-ray diffraction image, known as photo 51, at King's College in London. The female biophysicist (an x-ray crystallographer, if you must know) was Rosalind Franklin (Stacy Fischer). The three male doctors were Francis Crick (John Tracey), James Watson (Michael Underhill) and Maurice Wilkins (Barlow Adamson). Donald Caspar (Jesse Hinson) and Raymond Gosling (Josh Gluck) also play supporting roles. All are integral to this presentation, with a special nod to “colleagues” Fisher and Adamson, the Greek chorus role by Gluck, and the appropriately energetic turn by Underhill.

John Tracey & Michael Underhill in "Photograph 51"
(photo: Maggie Hall)

The character of Franklin isn't softened in the play from what it would appear to have been in life, keeping her from standing out, what with the blatant misogyny that surrounded her and led to one of history's worst examples of unfairness and unconscionable chauvinism. Most frustrating is that we will never know whether Franklin would have made the leap to the explanation if she hadn't been marginalized; would she have taken the risk? As aptly Directed by Rebecca Bradshaw, with Scenic Design by Kristin Loeffler, Costume Design by Chelsea Kerl, Lighting Design by Aja M. Jackson and Sound Design by Elizabeth Cahill, this current production doesn't attempt to answer this. (Those who have been paying attention might note that's an ironically all-female creative team; one might also ask why we noticed that). With a length of just ninety intermission-less minutes, the time seemed to fly by in this remarkable retelling of a critical moment in the herstory of medical science.

What doesn't fly by is the excruciating feeling that you've seen this sort of thing happen, either covertly or overtly, virtually every day of your life, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better anytime soon. In Franklin's time, she was habitually addressed as “Miss” rather than “Doctor”, and not even allowed to eat with her male colleagues. Times may have changed somewhat, but not completely. Given the current state of the disunion, maybe theater is our last resort. One can only hope that diversity overcomes perversity, and that our scientific and theatrical heroes continue, virtually every day, to look at lot more like us.


No comments:

Post a Comment