‘Silent Sky’ gives voice to brilliant women and their discovery

Around Town

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Blackfriars Theatre in Rochester will present “Silent Sky” by acclaimed playwright Lauren Gunderson from October 28 through November 14.

Jill Rittinger, who plays real-life astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt, and Director Patti Lewis Browne discussed the long-awaited production Thursday during News 8 at Noon.

“We are so excited to be back,” said Rittinger. “Live theatre has been on a hiatus for far too long and we are in deep need of seeing our audiences again and just feeling that communal feeling that we all have when we go to the theatre of feeling like we’re part of something.”

Lewis Browne noted the production was all set to go before the COVID pandemic pulled the plug. “We were just shy of two weeks out from opening when everything shut down on March 13, 2020. Naively we thought, oh well, this will be for a couple of weeks and then we’ll get back to it and, of course, we’re now 20 months later and just remounting it. We were lucky in that we were able to assemble most of the artistic company and the best thing about it is that we discovered that when we came back together around the table to read the play again that we all appreciated it on a different level. Its message of hope and resilience had double resonance.”

Leavitt’s story is one that will resonate for many over a century after her work in astronomy. “Leavitt was a true, actual astronomer in the early 1900s,” Rittinger explained. “She worked at the Harvard Observatory. She was tenacious and bright and very driven. Her research helped to set the stage – if you will – for our more modern research, including the Hubble Telescope. We talk about the role of women during that time, not only for women but for women who were driven in the sciences. Men would often just take credit for their work.”

Lewis Browne said she hopes audiences will appreciate the story. “I hope they take away the story of these remarkable women. Two of the other women in the play are also based on real figures – Annie Cannon and Williamina Fleming. And there’s also something that Annie Cannon said. She said, ‘In our troubled days it’s good to have something outside our planet, something fine and distant for comfort.’ I can’t think of a better way to tell what we would like to share with the audience, this fine and distant comfort told through these remarkable women about a remarkable discovery.”

For tickets, performance times, and COVID protocols, call (585) 454-1260 or visit Blackfriars.org.

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