Southern Miss Theatre debuted Lauren Gunderson’s play “Silent Sky” Nov. 3, and audience members reveled in the success.
Corey Bradberry, pursuing a master of fine arts at USM, directed the drama with cast members consisting of Jasmine Neal, Wynter Seymour, Jonathan Swindle, Haley Beasley and Amanda Boé.
The play follows Henrietta Leavitt, a nineteenth-century female astronomer, on a journey from her acceptance at Harvard to her death. The drama is set in rural Wisconsin at the Harvard Observatory where Leavitt is restricted from touching a telescope. While balancing her dedication to science with family obligations and romance, Leavitt uncovers a scientific discovery that changes our understanding of the universe.
The premise of “Silent Sky” resembles most dramatized plays, but where the play exceeds generality is in it’s burst of romantic comedy.
Neal, who played Leavitt, and Swindle, who played Leavitt’s love interest, Peter Shaw, had a kind of chemistry that appeared to go beyond stage performance. Every romantic in the theater swooned over the couple’s seamless chemistry.
Neal said her natural interest in Swindle’s character came easy.
“It’s all about making sure that you’re comfortable with each other and that you trust each other within the scene,” Neal said. “It helps that [Swindle] is an amazing scene partner. He’s easy to work with.”
Although she fumbled through two lines during her performance, Neal triumphed when confronted with difficult aspects of her character.
“Henrietta is a very charged and very intelligent and very determined person,” Neal said. “Jasmine, me, I am not a very charged person. So, finding that passion science that I know nothing about was challenging. I had to pool my passion for acting and push it onto Henrietta’s passion for science.”
The play’s scenic design was another driving force behind the theater department’s ultimate success.
Scenic designer Kensey Coleman had an eye for practicality when creating the play’s environment. Every inch of the stage provided useful during the performance. Even the middle of the stage, which had no props positioned on it, acted as Leavitt’s conscience when confronted with the hardship of dedicating herself to science while her family missed her.
Steven Groom, a theater undergraduate at USM with an emphasis on custom design, said the play’s scenic design was unique.
“The beautifully simplistic set allows for seamless scene changes throughout,” Groom said. “I loved it.”
Though the USM Theatre Department’s performance of “Silent Sky” was largely appreciated, it was by no means a perfect performance when compared to the department’s first play of the season, “Next to Normal”. The first 20 minutes of the play were enduring. Viewers were slowly enraptured by cast members’ performances.
While the attraction of the play was not automatic, the ending left viewers quietly astounded. I believe this play has potential. “Silent Sky” was beautifully executed, and you can bet it will leave you wanting more.