“Silent Sky,” the theater program’s first in-person production since the pandemic shutdown, is a beautiful epic of scientific and relational discovery. Written in 2015 by Lauren Gunderson, a San Francisco playwright, the story follows Henrietta Leavitt and the women who work at the Harvard Observatory at the turn of the century. As these women chart the known universe of the early 20th century, they deal with harsh realities such as long-term relationships and love.
“The play was written because it brings light to real events that happened,” said Jolene Automo, senior theater major and lead actress. “She was a really smart astronomer, but at the time that she existed, women did not have much power and were being used for their (academic) work. This was understood as truth to the real Henrietta Leavitt.”
This story applies to college students as they struggle to find love and achieve academic success. The characters aptly show the emotional roller coaster that accompanies exploring academia and not having enough time for social lives and sleep but staying focused on undiscovered frontiers.
Despite these harsh realities, Automo cites Henrietta’s line “wonder will get us there,” making the point that an ever-growing curiosity will carry people through the mundanity. However, she states this under the stipulation that one is being supported by a community.
Automo mentions community for the reason that if we do not have community, then we lack adequate perspective. Thus, one should search out diverse perspectives to tackle life’s most difficult themes like love, God and growth.
“Silent Sky” is a love story defined almost entirely through a female perspective, passing the Bechdel test with flying colors. Additionally, the cast delicately pulls the audience’s heartstrings, playing an emotional symphony in the mind of every audience member.
“(The play has) a lot of different emotional moments and there are a lot of moments that are spiritual and show different dynamics of relationships with coworkers, family and oneself,” said Faith Elizabeth Ann, senior theater major, assistant director and prop master.
The play assesses the scientific contributions of Henrietta Leavitt. However, the playwright Lauren Gunderson misrepresented the historical figures’ religious views, suggesting agnosticism with atheistic tendencies while, in reality, she was a Puritan woman devoted to her family and the church.
Through an esoteric personal understanding of Gunderson’s work, Elizabeth Ann finds the gospel in a work that is seemingly engineered to separate the worlds of science and religion. She does this through a metaphysical comparison of truth in the play and real life.
She first notes Henrietta’s pursuit of truth by touching on the vast, overwhelming absurdity of the universe.
“It doesn’t matter what you think or what you choose because it is going to be what it is whether you try to minimize it or not,” Elizabeth Ann said.
Elizabeth Ann is tapping into the basis of the scientific method in saying this, dispelling any false notions of relative existence. She then correlates this expansive universe to the reality of God’s existence.
“We believe that (God and)the Bible are true and you can choose not to believe that, but it is still going to be truth, (which is why) we are telling this story to share the gospel,” Elizabeth Ann said.
Automo adds to this thought by exploring its functionality after it is accepted as truth. “If
“If we are trying to control too much of our life instead of prioritizing our relationship with God (and other humans), then we are going to lose all (meaning that drives our desire to explore the universe),” Automo said.
By this, she means that when pursuing virtually any aspect of life from athletics to academia we must implement God and community as the functional life-giving foundation that we build our lives on.
She draws these ideas from the theatrical and thematic unraveling of despair caused by necessary human connection in “Silent Sky,” which puts the fallen nature of the world in the spotlight for all to see and then shatters that reality in an unexpected logically satisfying way. The play presents ultimate reconciliation through the motif of scientific advancement, which then becomes a metaphor for a vast unfathomably complex personal God that we can be passionate about.
While it is unrealistic to compare creation to Creator, the two do work in tandem when exploring the natural world. It thus begs the question of why one would dare consider splitting the two predominant revelatory forces in the modern world when they do not negate each other. So, all should pursue learning with a passion so that they may know God more fully.
Although, as the play expresses, passion is dependent on support from a community. Automo alluded to this idea as she talked about her love for the church community. This makes sense because a healthy church realizes all thematic ideals showcased in “Silent Sky,” including love, truth, exploration and unity.
If this all seems too serious, then you should consider that this is just an overview of some of the major underlying themes.
“There are a lot of jokes and a lot of silliness in the show that make it very enjoyable to watch, but there are also a lot of really awesome themes that beg further thought,” said Elizabeth Ann.
The cast of “Silent Sky” is comprised of five CBU thespians, who have been accented beautifully through an expressively minimalistic set design, allowing for seamless transitions.
“The supporting cast overwhelmingly stole the show with their fantastic performances,” said Dylan Jacobs, sophomore applied theology major. “Alexis Parsio brought an incredible amount of heartwarming passion, and Joy Bennet seemed to have the audience rolling with laughter after every line.”
Jacobs accurately picks up on the tolerability of the curated philosophy of Elizabeth Ann and Automo.
“(The set) is comprised of simple platforms and the whole back wall of the theater is exposed, (allowing for a high-def projector to display images) and every time we change scenes we change the image on the back of the wall, (taking) the audience’s imagination (to a) completely different place,” said Dan Robinson, technical director for the theater department and adjunct theater professor.
With the artistic vigor that went into cultivating an evangelistic, minimalistic and philosophically interesting play, there is no reason you should not see it.
“Silent Sky” will be showing in the Wallace Theater on Friday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday, Oct. 23 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available online or in the Wallace theater box office for $15 and $12 for faculty and students.