Henrietta Leavitt is likely a name you've never heard.
When she joined the all-female team of “computers” at the Harvard Observatory in the early 1900s, she had dreams of seeing the stars first hand, but wasn't allowed to touch the telescope or theorize.
Henrietta had been hired to count and map the stars, nothing more. Using thin glass sheets showing tiny sections of the sky, Henrietta couldn't help but notice that there were far more of a particular type of star than had ever been noticed. So she began staying late to investigate further. This leads her to a huge idea that all but consumes her.
"Silent Sky," playwright Lauren Gunderson's mostly true story of Henrietta Leavitt, explores scientific and social progress in a sweet and honest way. Gunderson's storytelling encompasses both the poetic and practical, bringing to life these luminous women who's light had not yet been counted.
The production at the Long Beach Playhouse, directed ably by Phyliss B. Gitlin, finds just the right tone to bring the story of Leavitt and her fellow computers to life. Loren Bowen as Leavitt understands exactly how Gunderson's dialogue should be executed. She skillfully navigates between the lyrical and realistic tones in a way that keeps the more poetic sections from feeling disjointed.
Amber Hill portrays Leavitt's sister Margaret with a sense of practicality mixed with vulnerability providing a glimpse into Henrietta's family — an understanding and supportive family that Henrietta sometimes takes for granted in pursuit of the cosmos.
Brenda Kenworthy is a gem crafting Wilhelmina, one of Henrietta's fellow "computers," into a woman full of spunk and good nature. She holds the balance of the evening's humor and is skillful at deploying Gunderson's punchlines.
Austin James take on Leavitt's foil and love interest, Peter, is nuanced and peppered with a believable awkwardness that allows him the flexibility to be both likable and and an irritant as needed.
Holland Rentan strikes a commanding presence as Annie. Rentan takes the role of self-appointed leader of the computers on a beautiful arc of her own self discovery. Renton gives Annie a series of subtle shifts as the character goes from fiercely defending the status quo to demanding that it change. As much as I enjoyed Herietta's story, it is Annie's story, however fictional, that might be the more interesting as she is the only character who seems to truly be altered by her circumstances.
The lighting and the sound design carried the actors through the evening with skill and polish.
"Silent Sky" is a lovely portrait of yet another important and little known woman who made huge contributions to the sciences.
"Silent Sky" continues through May 4 at the Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St. Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday, and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
On Friday, adult tickets are $20, seniors $18, and students $14. Saturday and Sunday they are $24, $21 and $14, respectively.
Tickets are available at www.lbplayhouse.org, or by calling (562) 494-1014, option 1.The box office is open from 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 1-2 p.m. Sundays on scheduled matinees.