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‘Silent Sky’ is surprisingly heartfelt for a story about science.

Henrietta Leavitt’s life story is refreshingly inspiring and empowering.

A scene from

Courtesy of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center

A scene from "Silent Sky."

Pete Escobar, Staff Writer

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In divisive and heated times it’s tough not to feel on edge, and constantly worrying about what the future holds can take a toll on a person’s spirit. Every now and then, we all need to be reminded that it’s OK to look up at the sky for answers and inspiration.

Lauren Gunderson’s “Silent Sky,”follows a relatively unknown astronomer’s battle with discrimination at the Harvard Observatory in 1895. The piece is being performed at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center and will debut on Aug. 31.

Director Todd Nielsen and Artistic Director/Producer Caryn Desai turned “Silent Sky” into an emotionally powerful, awe inspiring experience that not only teaches us of an underdog scientist’s critical discovery, but also depicts the struggle and importance of balancing passion with priorities.

The story revolves around astronomer Henrietta Leavitt’s (Jennifer Cannon) struggle with family, discrimination, love and her own limitless aspirations. Leavitt wants to study the universe at Harvard’s observatory, but constant letters from her sister Margaret Leavitt (Erin Anne Williams) remind her of growing troubles back home, and the arrogance of Leavitt’s future love interest Peter Shaw (Eric Wentz) hold her back.

Leavitt journeyed to Harvard under the impression that she would be working alongside other scientists at the observatory. Rather, she worked as a “computer,”- the workers who made calculations on astronomical data.

Throughout her studies, Leavitt uncovered a method of measurement that astronomers could ultimately use to determine the distance of stars and galaxies from Earth.

Everything on stage at Long Beach’s International City Theater felt authentic to the play’s setting, which mainly took place at the Harvard College Observatory and Leavitt’s home in Massachusetts. This minimalistic setup is ultimately brought to life with the use of a beautiful observatory-style backdrop, displaying the cosmos at critical moments during the play. Alongside careful use of lighting and music, the backdrop turned certain scenes into dreamlike sequences, adding an emotional weight to the performance.

“Silent Sky” treads through the life of Leavitt, not only focusing on her groundbreaking research, but highlighting the persistence of her character. Leavitt is constantly trying to balance her career with her family, love life and friends, all of which seem to be holding her back. However, it becomes clear that balancing her dreams with these things is essential to her own well being. Ironically, those same things are essential in bringing Leavitt’s dreams to fruition.

While each performance was charismatic and well executed, Cannon and Williams stole the show. Cannon brought a certain livelihood and rebelliousness to Leavitt’s character that contrasted well with Margaret’s, who is much more traditional and “well mannered.” Their dynamic on stage not only made for great bouts of humor, but moments of deep emotion.

“Silent Sky” is not just a story about family, love and friendship, it’s also a story that promotes female empowerment. What’s interesting is that while we don’t see a strong male presence throughout the play, they constantly restrict Leavitt and her aspirations. Edward Charles Pickering, Director of Harvard’s observatory, constantly ignores Leavitt’s intelligence and makes it clear that she is only there because she is a pretty thing to look at. Nevertheless Leavitt prospers, but the absence of male characters is an nice way of depicting male ignorance to a woman’s capabilities and intelligence in that time.

It’s impressive how emotionally heavy “Silent Sky,” a play about astronomers and science, is. Despite countless antagonistic factors, we get to see Leavitt fulfill her dreams in an extremely touching and inspirational production. Now ask yourself, are you as dedicated to your work as Leavitt was to her own?

“Silent Sky” will be playing at the Performing Arts Center from Aug. 31 to Sept. 10, with Thursday through Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and Sunday performances at 2 p.m. Thursday and Friday tickets are $47, while Saturday and Sunday tickets are $49.

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