A new feminist historical drama focuses on the woman who X-rayed DNA.
Mon Nov 8 2010
Photograph: Gerry Goodstein
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
History, we know, is written by the victors. It is also, as we learn in Anna Ziegler's well-intentioned but stolid new drama Photograph 51, written by chauvinists who, while hustling for fame, tended to elbow lady colleagues into the ditch. It's enough to gnash your teeth over, that long history of overlooking and sideswiping. But the corrective cannot be gross sentimentalization, or else we get work like Ziegler's—in which intellectual struggle blurs behind superimposed romantic angst.
Ziegler takes Rosalind Franklin—she who took the X-ray image of DNA's helical structure—as a kind of bluestocking Cassandra. Orbiting the lovely Kristen Bush's Franklin are familiar figures James Watson (Haskell King) and Francis Crick (Jeremy Webb), as well as lesser-known chaps such as her colleague Maurice Wilkins (Kevin Collins). The men narrate her story, ducking in to tell us about her stunning scholarship between scenes of laboratory friction. Despite the technique's subversive message (even here, we rely on male accounts!), this constant shifting undercuts momentum. Director Linsay Firman has no choice but to leave the many narrators loitering onstage, their bemused expressions solidifying. Still, the piece could have simply gone on this way, with mild jokes leavening a careful historical portrait. But Ziegler takes an ugly turn as she feels her story drawing to a close. In an unspoken profession to her graduate student, Franklin claims she longs "to be kissed" (not by the Nobel Prize committee) and promptly tumbles to the ground with melodrama-stage cancer. Watson dismissively called her Rosie; Wilkins called her Miss (never Doctor) Franklin. But neither of them dared to say that her early death was tragic...because she didn't have a boyfriend.
Ensemble Studio Theatre. By Anna Ziegler. Dir. Linsay Firman. With ensemble cast. 1hr 25mins. No intermission.