Depictions of the often-overlooked contributions of women in the world of science are finally becoming more common, in movies like Hidden Figures and plays like Silent Sky, performed at the Valentine earlier this year. Fitting into that mold is Photograph 51, Anna Ziegler’s play about British scientist Rosalind Franklin, whose role in mapping the DNA molecule has been minimized by history.
A new production of Photograph 51 will take the Toledo Repertoire Theatre stage beginning March 9. The show’s director, David DeChristopher, said that he thinks audiences will be surprised by all the notes this particular show plays during its relatively brief running time.
“It is a dramedy based on real events,” DeChristopher said. “It makes science explicable for people. It’s also sort of an office… I don’t want to say comedy, but it’s about the relationships of people who are working together in an office.
“It also is pure storytelling, narrated to the audience by all of the characters, in a fluid narration of scenes. It’s very accessible,” he added. “If you don’t know anything [about the story], you’ll find it fascinating, and if you know something about science, it will deepen your understanding.”
As part of his responsibilities as the Rep’s artistic director, DeChristopher estimated that he suggests almost 80 percent of the plays that the Rep eventually puts up, including this “engaging and entertaining” piece. He noted how modern audiences will be able to identify and recognize the pattern of institutional sexism that led to Franklin’s work being overlooked.
“It also speaks to the issue of office decorum and relationships,” DeChristopher said. “There’s no sexual anything, but in light of all the recent revelations, issues come up about workplace relationships, and proper channeling. But also, like Hidden Figures, it does speak to women getting shoved to the side or stereotypes being propagated against them.”
DeChristopher looked for performers who would not be overwhelmed by the necessary British accents, while being able to embody the quiet enthusiasm scientists often have toward their work. “I was looking for people who were able to be communicative and also be subtle,” he said.
“There’s a whole protocol of the way people behave in the sciences. You don’t want to see somebody excited; you want to see somebody true to what the protocol is in their world. So a lot of it is the way they use words— it’s a subtlety.”
Like Rosalind Franklin and the scientists who came together to solve one of mankind’s endearing mysteries, this cast and crew’s spirit of invention and collaboration is an inspiration to DeChristopher.
“Often you work on a play and you’re excited to get in rehearsal, and it feels very elemental, the bones don’t hold up, and you sort of get bored. This time, every time I go in, I find wonderful new things.”
$20/general. $18/seniors. $12/students
$10/children age 13 and younger
March 9-25. 8pm, Thursdays-Saturdays. 2:30pm, Sundays
The Toledo Repertoire Theatre, 16 10th St.
419-243-9277 | toledorep.org