By: Cody Curtis, Staff Writer
The University of Southern Maine’s theater department continues telling powerful and inspirational stories with “The Women Who Mapped the Stars”. This production is directed by Sara Valentine, written by Joyce Van Dyke and Starring Campbell Gibson, Halsey Redman, Jackie Condon, Alyssa Pearl-Ross and Meg Mayfield. While the production was a step back from the University’s previous production “Fortune”, it nevertheless accomplished the goal of providing a story about some of history’s most important women. These same women not only paved the way for today’s professional astronomers but also anybody wishing to study the stars and planets in this modern age.
Cecilia Payne (Gibson) is a bright and hopeful Cambridge student. Her only dream is to create a theory that will change the course of history and bring more knowledge to the world. Her best hope of accomplishing this daunting task is to look at the women that came before her. These women were Williamina Fleming (Condon), Henrietta Leavitt (Redman), Antonia Maury ( Pearl-Ross) and Annie Jump Cannon (Mayfield). They all worked diligently with little pay, under the walls of Harvard, and provided Payne with the research and fiery dedication for her own work. Behind every great man is a great woman and this play certainly embodies that phrase.
Praise has to be given to the production crew behind the curtain. From a technical standpoint “The Women Who Mapped the Stars” is flawless. The music cues, scenery and every prop used were breathtaking. The set is built to look and feel as if the audience itself is with these women inside the Harvard planetarium. The back wall is used as a projector for equations, stars and a view of our galaxy. This may have annoyed other spectators, but for myself, it made the experience all the more engrossing.
The performances by Gibson as Cecilia Payne and Redman as Henrietta Leavitt demonstrate a potential for greatness. Both women showed a certain innocence and honesty. Gibson’s energy, in particular, was infectious and made the audience curious about how the story would progress.
“I became interested in the script when I had the chance to read it last spring,” Redman said, “I, as a young actor, got cast with a lot of men in my high school productions, so I thought a cast of all women would challenge me in a way I hadn’t been before.”
The story of “The Women Who Mapped the Stars” is something not many people know about. Very much like Alan Turing before them, these women suffered in silence and it is only recently that their work has been awarded and recognized for how important it is. In the world of remakes, reboots and adaptations, it can be difficult to find original work from inspired playwrights and screenwriters. Joyce Van Dyke is a brilliant playwright and has provided the world with an inspired work.
While the production crew created magic on stage, Van Dyke wrote a beautiful piece of storytelling and although Gibson and Redman wonderfully carried that story, the same cannot be said for the rest of the show. Besides Gibson and Redman, there is not a memorable performance executed by the rest of the cast. This is a shame, considering this story is about women society should care about and cheer for. For a story involving women so deeply passionate about the sciences they discuss, there was little passion in the voices of the other three women on stage.
“The Women Who Mapped the Stars” has one powerful thing going for it. This show creates excitement for USM’s next theatrical production: “The Love of The Nightingale” (Nov 15-24) and the student-run production “Of Mice and Men” (Oct 25-27). While there were some major flaws in this show, there were slightly more positives. In some ways, this show reflects who people truly are. Not every show will be perfect, just like not every person will be perfect, but it is up to the audience to decide if these things bother them and whether they are willing to give that person or theater company a second chance.