I took a friend to the Regina A. Quick Center of the Arts to see Lauren Henderson’s “Silent Sky” on Oct. 28 and, within a click, just a moment of a moment, the stars finally aligned.
The play was fantastic. I can spend much of this piece, as I usually do, trying to place the audience next to me in the chair. Transporting them with me to the early 20th century as I watched the true story of famed astronomer Henrietta Leavitt (Emily Ramsey) unfold before my eyes. As we watched, Leavitt struggled to make her mark on the world. Held back by her gender with the only job offered to her as an assistant to the head astronomer, Edward C. Pickering — mentioned only by name in the play, she had to work after hours on her own project, charting and studying Cepheid variable stars. All while ignoring the obvious belittling of her gender’s place in science, shown as the group of female assistants she was a part of was degradingly called “Pickering’s Harem.”
I watched as Leavitt made a choice between life or legacy, to be remembered now or forever. She chose forever, spending hours avoiding the outside world to chart her stars. Her work so important that, in the real-life Henrietta Leavitt’s career, Edwin Hubble, the famed astronomer, used Leavitt’s work to determine that the universe is expanding and stated that she should’ve been nominated for a Nobel Prize. Unfortunately, Leavitt had died three years earlier from cancer, so she couldn’t be given the award. While this is an interesting background, the play closes before all of this occurs, concluding just as Leavitt succumbs to the stars. I watched, I truly watched, her make the decision to look up from her feet and towards the stars.
I spent much of my high school career attending mediocre play performances, clapping along and telling my friends that they were fantastic, just to keep their hopes intact. I wouldn’t take a moment to breathe before telling these actors: Emily Ramsey ‘20, Fallon Sullivan ‘20 (Margaret Leavitt), Carlin Fournier ‘22 (Peter Shaw), Martha Hegley ‘20 (Annie Cannon) and Romica Rabines ‘19 (Williamina Fleming) that they were simply extraordinary. That their passion, which absorbed us all into a two-decade-long period of history, paid off, as each of them took a step into the shoes of their character, leaving little distinction between them and their roles. But, when the play ended and a final intake of air was taken by the performers before the lights clicked off, I started to see the beginning of my morning with disdain.
It was just so ordinary. I did my laundry. I met some friends at the Tully and laughed about ridiculous costumes and gossip we will forget in a weeks time. I did a bit of homework, fretted about a midterm… If I was picking my days out of a lineup, this one wouldn’t stand out in a million years, not in a million light years. It’s hard to compare our small everyday lives to the vastness of the universe. But you have to, it’s simply a burden we have to bear as humans. But, as “Silent Sky” reveals to us, it’s not a burden once you start to see that the universe is measured in light, not time.