Returning to Seattle Rep after her triumphant portrayal of Aphra Behn in last season’s Or, Kristen Potter tackles another intriguing woman who drove the men mad -- except in this case, it was mad with jealousy over her scientific achievements.
Like the flamboyant Aphra, Rosalind Franklin pricked the presumptions of the men around her. The British biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer strides briskly onto the stage, refusing to be labeled an “assistant” in the laboratory and insisting (with limited success) on being addressed by her academic title rather than as Miss Franklin or, worse, Rosy.
In Photograph 51, playwright Anna Ziegler recounts how Franklin’s pioneering work led to the discovery of the structure of DNA, but her personality and her gender caused her to be dismissed by the scientists who later won the Nobel Prize for defining the double helix. Rather than judging Maurice Wilkins (Bradford Farwell), James Watson (Benjamin Harris), and Francis Crick (MJ Sieber), Ziegler lets them recount their own views, often contradictory, of Franklin and her research.
Forming a Greek chorus of sorts, two young scientists Dan Caspar (Aaron Blakely) and Ray Gosling (Brian Earp) also give their version of events.
The curtain stays up and the characters stay exposed for the entire 90 minutes beneath Scott Bradley's simple but evocative set that seems to place all of them under the camera lens for an x-ray into their hearts.
In an outstanding cast, Potter shines brightest, snapping out lines briskly in that slightly exasperated tone that any intelligent woman has employed in her lifetime when confronted by complete male obliviousness. As a recent article about sexism in the gaming industry pointed out, many of the men in the room just don’t notice the impact of their remarks until some exasperated soul points them out.
And, as the same article revealed, the struggle of women to be accepted as equal in the male-dominated areas such as computer programming continues. The “male only” lunchroom may have disappeared since Franklin’s day, but bigger items like equal opportunities, equal pay, and the ability to do intelligent work with apology remain an issue for many.
Photograph 51 has been extended through March 10 at the Rep due to high demand for tickets. The updated schedule is available at their website.