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Nora Theater Company Charts "The Women Who Mapped the Stars"

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.

  Sarah Oakes Muirhead as Henrietta Swan Leavitt at the Nora Theater Company Production of
Sarah Oakes Muirhead as Henrietta Swan Leavitt at The Nora Theater Company Production of "The Women Who Mapping the Stars." (Courtesy of A.R. Sinclair Photography.)

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.

<img class = "size-large article-image" src = "http://d279m997dpfwgl.cloudfront.net/wp/2018/04/CST-The-Women-Who-Mapped-the-Stars-production- 1-1000×667.jpg "alt =" Amanda Collins as Cecilia Payne (foreground) with Sarah Oakes Muirhead as Henrietta Swan Leavitt (19659009) Amanda Collins as Cecilia Payne (foreground) with Sarah Oakes Muirhead as Henrietta Swan Leavitt in "The Women Who Ironically, Payne will also be co-opted on her way to this happy ending by the distinguished astronomer Henry Norris Russell, who praises her dissertation, but poofs her discovery that the stars are chiefly (Four years later, he claimed the discovery was his own.) However, here is just one of many disruptions on the way to inspiring, sororal completion of the piece.

As you may have learned, "The Women "the stars" is vollgest opft with the dense scientific discoveries of his experienced stargazers. You will learn a lot about astronomy, astrophysics, star spectra and Magellanic clouds. But although Van Dyke is on a mission here, this is not her first dramaturgical rodeo. I admired her award-winning plays "A Girl's War" and "The Oil Thief". And I experience that this work, which has been in the works for two years, had its first development with The Poets & # 39; Theater. In fact, the piece (which director Jessica Ernst has worked on from the outset) seems to be limited to science, history and metaphysics. It plays in "The Women's Workroom at Harvard College Observatory, Late 19th-early 20th Century". But the playwright adds, "In space is the universe."

In Ernst's staging for the Nora, the universe is actually over and behind the room its foggy star clumps swell and disappear behind a string curtain. The stage design is by James F. Rotondo III, the ethereal lighting by John R. Malinowski, the floating projections by Seifallah Salotto-Cristobal. Together, the effects of the designers not only simulate the sky, but also the regular, seemingly magical descent through the stupid waiter of photo documentation studied and classified by the diligent women underneath.

Although some of the song's dialogues are related to language, Van Dyke gives each of her subjects their own personality – as well as a common passion and collective ax for grinding. Whether bent over their glass plates or clapping on wine or tea and biscuits, the computers radiate devotion to the work, though they are often lengthy and always male-oriented and harm their secondary scientific citizenship.

  From left to right, Sarah Newhouse as Annie Sprungkanone, Christine Power as Antonia Maury, Becca A. Lewis as Williamina Fleming and Sarah Oakes Muirhead as Henrietta Swan Leavitt in
From left to right Sarah Newhouse as Annie Jump Cannon, Christine Power as Antonia Maury, Becca A. Lewis as Williamina Fleming and Sarah Oakes Muirhead as Henrietta Swan Leavitt in "The Women Who Mapped the Stars" (Courtesy AR Sinclair Photography)

But only Payne, born decades after the other, pulsates with the ambition to recognize not only their achievements, with their own name, but also the creative "ecstasy" of being the first person to discover a phenomenon and thereby know something. In this way, the piece points to art in the center of science.

For Nora, Amanda Collins, in pleated skirt and flapper Bob, portrays Payne with a haunting English accent, but a steady, starry eye-gaze, frustration is no stranger. At the other end of the spectrum, Becca A. Lewis brings the groundbreaking Fleming both a convincing Scottish ridge and a vivacious, straightforward warmth.

Sarah Oakes Muirhead is the tender, meticulous Leavitt whose work dates back to Edwin Hubble's. Christine Power provides Maury with a sparkling glory that does not puke. And Sarah Newhouse marries the ride to happiness as the fast, almost deaf cannon who developed the Harvard system for star organization and personally classifies more of the night sky glitter than anyone else. In the end, these women are allowed to connect arms rather than each other to climb – which is definitely better for the back. But in science, as in the sisterhood, you welcome support, regardless of the limits of time and imagination.

Nora Theater Company's The Women Who Mapping the Stars production runs until May 20 at the Central Square Theater.

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