Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Photograph 51

Play #133

Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler

This is a play about scientist Rosalind Franklin, whose work in crystallography helped to unlock the structure of DNA. Unfortunately, due to a combination of being a woman, not making it to publication first, and dying quite young of ovarian cancer (which was likely a byproduct of the equipment she used in imaging the genome), her name has largely been forgotten. This play feels like a cousin to Lauren Gunderson's play Silent Sky, but with one major difference: Rosalind's story is told almost entirely from the point of view of the men who surrounded her.

There is her unwilling partner, Maurice Wilkins; her assistant, Ray Gosling; a competing scientist duo of James Watson and Francis Crick; and a graduate student/love interest, Don Caspar. Science was (and still is) dominated by men, and there is even reference to the fact that, were she in America, she likely wouldn't even have access to the buildings where work like this was being done, let alone find herself leading it. But the play is structured as a memory play, and since Rosalind dies so young, all that seems to be left of her is the impressions that she made on the men around her. Franklin is a fascinating woman whose story is absolutely deserving of a play, but I never really felt much life to this particular telling. Perhaps I'm jaded by the beauty of Gunderson's play that I read so recently. There's nothing inherently wrong with this script, but there's nothing that really stands out about it either. And though Ziegler does manage to create some complexity for the woman whose memory these men regale us with, I think I would have found the play much more interesting if I felt I were seeing it from her point of view rather than from theirs. 

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