It was Sir Isaac Newton who said in 1675, "If I have seen further, I stand on the shoulders of giants." "The women who mapped the stars" shatters this human pyramid and brings the 20th Century astronomer Cecilia Payne right into their immediate predecessors. These were the female "computers" commissioned at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries to carefully classify heavenly data at the Harvard College Observatory and then pass their findings on to scientists who did not let them touch a telescope. 19659002] In her world premiere of the Nora Theater Company (in the Central Square Theater until May 20), Joyce Van Dyke's praiseworthy yet homely praise to a quintet of women making significant discoveries, rather than making coffee, is the Brit's inauguration offer d & # 39; Arbeloff Women in Science Production Series and a Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT offering. A commissioned piece, the piece sometimes seems to be more focused on scientific mediation and putting the feminist recording just as on human drama. But the piece, with one eye on history and the other in the sky, gathers strength, warmth and layers as it goes on.
Despite his scientific and feminist agendas, "The Women Who Mapping the Stars" is not without its secret. The play (which deals with the same reason as Lauren Gunderson's "Silent Sky") begins in the starless night of 1879, when the husband of future astronomer Williamina Fleming disappeared. The Scottish immigrant, who was single and pregnant, went to work as a maid for Edward Charles Pickering, who happened to be director of the Harvard College Observatory. And she soon found herself looking after a cadre of women who searched the countless photographic data the men had collected with these forbidden telescopes.
But while Fleming is still standing in the yard – as she does not say so subtly "alone in the universe" – the play jumps to 1923. On a platform supported by the firmament, a young, eager and passionate Payne arrives, holding a photo of Fleming and out to become an astronomer. Her search will also take her from her roots in the United Kingdom to Harvard, where she will become Professor and Chair of the Department of Astronomy in 1956.
But first, Payne will gradually fool her into Van Dyke's imagination's way into the domain of corrupted "computers" that preceded her and inspired her. In addition to Fleming, these include the later acclaimed astronomers Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Annie Jump Cannon and Antonia Maury. Magically dropped into their midst, Payne becomes her "dream": a female scientist of the future who has no choice but to credit men.