Let me just put this out there, I knew that I would love this performance from the get go. As soon as SRT released their 2012-2013 season, the two plays that stood out for me were A Glass Menagerie and Photograph 51. Both to be directed by Braden Abraham, and after Menagerie, which was one of the best productions I went to last year (not to mention Clybourne Park the year before), I knew that I would probably love his next project. I tried to remain objective but after this performance of Photograph, I could not be more excited for whatever he does next.
Photograph 51 does not disappoint; the script is smart, concise and surprisingly easy to follow regardless of the scientific jargon. The staging was well choreographed and captivating, most of the time all of the actors were present onstage watching the story take place from the wings and entering creatively. Ziegler adapts Rosalind Franklin’s story of discovering the DNA double helix with simplistic beauty. She tells it like it is, using actual and re-imagined facts that provide each possible perspective of the tale. The dialogue is quick and intense making the relationships realistic and bringing an astounding intimacy to each interaction. No one missed a beat; every actor brought a totally separate energy to the stage. It was refreshing and it captured the laboratory feel without being over the top.
It’s hard to say, since all the performances were fantastic but Bradford Farwell as Maurice Wilkins and Kirsten Potter as Rosalind Franklin were the stand out performances in the ensemble. They found very intricate moments, even in their formalities, to relate to one another and also immediately push each other even further away. These moments nearly overshadowed everything else for me. They were so touching and so human, you could see the pain in Maurice as he so clearly longed for a true partnership with Rosalind, and you could see Rosalind’s instinct to react at first, to indulge him ever so slightly… if she gave in a little bit, they would be true friends, maybe more; then pull back even farther. She was a woman married to her work and she had no desire to make any friends. There are a few times during the play you think that you will see Rosalind break down her wall to let someone in, and thankfully this doesn’t happen. Not to say that I wasn’t rooting for her to open up to someone, it just doesn’t suit the character. This isn’t a love story about a man and a woman. It’s a love story of a remarkable woman and her dedication and commitment to her work and science at large.
As Rosalind and Maurice discuss the performance of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale toward the end of the play, both speak of what would have happened if they had seen the play together, how things would have been different. “What if”? What if they had one solid connection before all the work got in the way? This is the most delicate and touching moment during the whole performance, an honest moment of connection. And closure! This is one show that actually ends with closure. The audience is left with a clean feeling on their theatrical palate, as if we just watched history re-write itself. Rosalind Franklin gave such a large body of work to the field of DNA research and here is an incredible reenactment of her life while she worked tirelessly at King’s College.
I would suggest going to see this production from the bottom of my heart. You get the inside scoop as to what went down during the race to discover the secrets of life itself. This is the best solution to reality TV I can think of. What about that isn’t worth the ticket price? And trust me; you are going to want to be able to brag to your friends that you saw this show when it was directed by Braden Abraham. Go see this show, please. And by the way, I heard through the grapevine that Mr. Abraham is working on adapting Henrik Ibsen’s Enemy of the People…I for one, am positively giddy.