Theatre review: Long Beach Playhouse’s Silent Sky


Photos by Michael Hardy Photography

Peter Shaw (Austin James) and Henrietta Leavitt (Loren Bowen) are pictured pretending to be on a ship in Leavitt’s imagination during the Long Beach Playhouse’s production of Silent Sky on Saturday, April 6.

There is nothing for Henrietta Leavitt (Loren Bowen) in Wisconsin. Her Bible-loving sister Margaret Leavitt (Amber Hill) is content with getting married and not having a career. But, Henrietta, on the other hand, has questions about the universe that she wants to unveil through a career in astronomy.

The true story of Henrietta, an astronomer at Harvard University in the early 1900s who tried to break the status quo of women in the scientific field, came to life in the Long Beach Playhouse’s rendition of Silent Sky, directed by Phyllis Gitlin, earlier this month.

Henrietta and Margaret’s love for each other is apparent, but so is their annoyance toward each other. They are the definition of “opposites attract,” as displayed by their contrasting personalities.

Henrietta cannot see herself getting married, but she can see herself looking at stars through a telescope at Harvard. So, she spent her dowry to become a human “computer” to map out the stars at Harvard under Dr. Pickering.

At Harvard, she is met with sexism and hostility by Peter Shaw (Austin James), who is Dr. Pickering’s apprentice. He belittles Henrietta by telling her that they are not colleagues, but, rather, that she works for him.

Shaw later becomes a love interest for Henrietta, but nothing more than just an interest– which is heart-wrenching, to say the least, for audience members rooting for them as a couple.

The theatre’s thrust stage and costuming made for an excellent time machine, because it seemingly transported the audience to the early 20th century.

Williamina Fleming (Brenda Kenworthy) and Annie Cannon (Holland Renton) are also human “computers” at Harvard who do not question their place as a woman in a male-dominated field, that is until Henrietta influences them to do otherwise.

Williamina Fleming (Brenda Kenworthy), Henrietta Leavitt (Loren Bowen) and Annie Cannon (Holland Renton) are pictured looking at “plates” with stars on them at Harvard University during the Long Beach Playhouse’s production of Silent Sky.

Fleming, a feisty Scottish woman, alongside rigid Cannon, greet Henrietta with an unusual introduction. The two boast about each other instead of themselves in a playful manner.

The audience was laughing like hyenas throughout the entire play, because of characters like Fleming whose personality could light up anyone’s day. This play had a good balance of seriousness and hilariousness, but it was mainly funny.

All three women are confined to sit at three small wooden desks, which is where they analyze “plates” with pictures of stars on them.

They do the work, and the male astronomers take credit for it, something that does not sit well with Henrietta. To make matters worse, she is not even allowed to look through the telescope because she is a woman.

The scenery for this play was minimal, but it was good enough. To the right of the stage, there was a projection of different images, such as a farmhouse, to signify the change in setting.

Instead of a red curtain, a piece of white sheer-looking fabric was draped all across the background with Christmas-type lights behind it.

At certain times, the houselights would go down, and the lights behind the fabric would twinkle like stars in a stunning and beautiful manner.

Finally, in the end, Henrietta looks through the telescope for the first time. Her sister’s heaven is defined in the Bible, but Henrietta’s heaven is the universe.

The Long Beach Playhouse’s production of Silent Sky continues until May 4 at the Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St. Tickets prices vary for students, adults and seniors. Call the box office at (562)-494-1014, option 1, email [email protected] or visit