A reviewer rarely can assert that a production is close to flawless, but Steel Beam Theatre’s “Silent Sky” is just that. It has a fluent script that is brilliantly acted by an ensemble of five, all superbly directed by Sean Patrick Hargadon. Even Jen Johnson’s simple, effective set design, Tiffany Jasinski’s celestial painting and Marge Uhlarik Boller’s costumes are impeccable supports.
“Silent Sky” is a period piece set in the early 1900s against the backdrop of Albert Einstein, World War I and the suffragette movement. Written by playwright Lauren Gunderson, the most produced playwright in America today, it’s a smart, funny, elegant, poignant and so very relevant bio-drama.
“Silent Sky” is a celebration of dreams, wonder and relationships as it unfolds the little known true story of Henrietta Leavitt, a headstrong and brilliant American astronomer. Her discoveries of Cepheid star patterns and luminosity have a profound and lasting effect to this day – Hubble telescope, anyone?
Leavitt was one of Harvard’s Dr. Edward Pickering’s “harem,” or women who worked at 30 cents an hour to catalog and measure stars whose ideas and work were dismissed until men claimed the credit. (Women at that time weren’t even allowed to use, let alone touch, Harvard’s Refractory telescope!)
Under Hargadon’s direction, “Silent Sky” shimmers and is a fast-paced historical drama with surprising humor. The cast is simply stellar. Paige Brantley is an outstanding Henrietta Leavitt. She’s fresh, articulate, emotive and totally credible in her character’s journey.
Brantley’s talents illustrate the pleasure of performance and words. Her co-workers (or fellow “computers”) – the suffragette and meticulous Annie Cannon, creator of the Harvard Classification Scheme, and Williamina Fleming, discoverer of the Horsehead Nebula – are engagingly portrayed by Julie Bayer and Joann Smith.
They both are powerful actresses who add splashes of color to Leavitt’s journey. Jake Busse is socially awkward Peter Shaw, Henrietta’s love interest. His fumbling and bumbling delivery is magnificent, as well as his later maturation. Kassandra Hesek is Henrietta’s sister, Margaret; she touchingly portrays the road not taken with contentment and strength. And the chemistry between these five actors is fascinatingly palpable and consistent.
“Silent Sky” is full of wonder and challenges, and as Leavitt’s ending monologue projects us into the future, you’ll believe “wonder will always get us there.”
• Regina Belt-Daniels is a happily working actress and director. A retired Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 special educator and former Raue Center for the Arts board member, she currently serves on the boards of It’s Showtime Huntley and Right-Center-Left Production Co. She also was a 2018 Woman of Distinction.
WHAT: “Silent Sky”
WHEN: Through Feb. 3
WHERE: Steel Beam Theatre, 111 W. Main St., St. Charles
COST: $22 to $28
INFO: 630-587-8521 or www.steelbeamtheatre.com