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Actors’ Summit staging mysterious ‘Photograph 51’

1/23/2014 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

Starring in Actors’ Summit Theater’s production of “Photograph 51” are, from left, (back row) Zach Griffin and Kenneth Leep; and (front row) Keith Stevens, Sally Groth and Benjamin Gregg.
Photo courtesy of Actors’ Summit Theater
DOWNTOWN AKRON — A good mystery story doesn’t have to deal with a murder in the drawing room of a remote estate. A mystery could involve the search for something. For that reason, Actors’ Summit Theater’s production of “Photograph 51” is a first-rate mystery. It is on stage through Feb. 2 at Greystone Hall.

The play demands the audience watch and listen. Unexpected events occur, and those events may change the history of the world. If that seems melodramatic, you must remember “Photograph 51” is a true story. These characters lived, researched and unraveled many of the mysteries of DNA.

“Photograph 51” works on many different levels. One of the intellectual challenges demands the audience research the issues motivating the next layer of the story.

Set in the 1950s in England, the play is the story of Rosalind Franklin’s (Sally Groth) career as a scientist. She and other colleagues investigate what will become DNA as we know it. Franklin is brittle and lacks warmth. However, she is a woman in a field dominated by men. Second, she is Jewish, and many of her colleagues hold a prejudice against Jews. These prejudices seem so out of date that we have to stop and remember the world as it was 65 years ago.

The cast is excellent. Groth creates a no-nonsense researcher, who doesn’t suffer fools lightly and who spends her days and nights in her lab. This may be historically accurate. Historians describe Franklin as abrasive.

Franklin worked at a time when women were to be kept “barefoot and pregnant.” She broke out of that tradition, earned a Ph.D. and became a renowned scientist.

Maurice Wilkins (Keith Stevens) was originally the director of the research project, but shares that task with Franklin. Stevens makes Wilkins a good old boy. Wilkins, who goes on to win the Nobel Prize for the research, as portrayed would never have gotten the prize without the fierce competition he perceives from Franklin.

Arthur Chu does an excellent job as Francis Crick, part of the research team. Chu makes his Crick impatient for the research to continue, but he seems hampered by his colleague, James Watson.

Watson, played by Benjamin Gregg, often seems more interested in researching the local females than DNA.

Zach Griffin creates a frustrated and baffled Ray Gosling, who is assigned to assist Franklin. Griffin makes his character loyal to Franklin and, yet, aware his alliance to this unpopular member of the staff may cost him his graduate degree.

Kenneth Leep (Don Caspar) brings warmth to the brittle Franklin and even attempts to hold her hand at one point in the story. He becomes her best friend in the lab and a frequent dinner companion. Leep has a voice designed for the stage. It is strong, deep and clear. I expect we’ll see more of his work in local theaters.

Director Neil Thackaberry helped his cast develop unique, distinct characters. The directing and acting are excellent. In addition to directing, Thackaberry designed the set, which includes ramps, steps and little tables that served, occasionally, as stools.

Playwright Anna Ziegler lets the production staff down by not giving Franklin the variety she needs to be a complete person. Part of this problem, of course, stems from the fact Ziegler created a biography of Franklin. In truth, one of the flaws in Franklin’s character might be that she isn’t a complete person. She is dedicated to her research and has no other emotional or social outlets.

For an interesting and mysterious 90 minutes in the theater, call 330-374-7568 and make reservations for “Photograph 51.”

 

David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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