“Silent Sky” Aims for the Stars

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“Silent Sky,” a UVU theatre production, ran for the last two weeks at the Bastian Theatre, where it aimed for the stars and succeeded in every respect. It is the epitome of a good story well told. 

“Silent Sky” is a play about so many things it’s hard to know where to begin, which is fitting considering the subject matter (classifying the night sky filled with numberless points of light). Ultimately, the play is about a woman named Henrietta Leavitt, whose quest to understand the universe consumes her whole life. This amazing woman goes from rural life in Wisconsin, filled with a burning desire to understand her place amongst the stars, to Harvard where she labors as an undervalued “computer” (think “Hidden Figures”), to finally becoming a renowned astronomer whose contributions directly shifted and expanded our view of the entire cosmos. 

2020 and 2021 have been difficult years for the world generally and the university community specifically, so it’s appropriate that the Noorda Performing Arts Center has come back swinging with this production. Courtney Davis, UVU’s interim dean of the School of the Arts, has said that over the last year, “We have not had the cathartic power of live performing arts to help us explore our humanity.” Gratefully, “Silent Sky” remedies that.

A quote attributed to Pablo Picasso says, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” “Silent Sky,” from the moment you step in the theatre cleanses the soul and immerses you in the most fundamental feelings of the human experience. The set design is neither minimalist nor excessive. Every aspect of the production is done with purpose. Music, projection technology and the stage techs all are integral to pulling the audience in.

Every great play starts with a great script, perhaps more so than any other visual medium, and “Silent Sky” has a great script. Its writer, Lauren Gunderson, has been named the “most produced playwright in America.” It’s not hard to see why. The dialogue sizzles. There is an energy, a liveliness in every line. The play runs perhaps a little long at two and a half hours and yet the story is tight, the hopes and fears of the characters bleeding out into the audience at every moment. 

The play features only five characters, which means that the audience gets ample time to get to know them. This brings us to the acting. A good script can be butchered by poor acting, and in a play, unlike a film, there are no edits to save a bad job. Thankfully, the acting, in this case, is equal to the source material. By the time one leaves the theatre, one feels as though they’re saying goodbye to five new, dear friends. The performances linger for days in one’s mind. 

If you watch “Silent Sky,” you will be educated. You will learn things about science and history and society. These are good things. But the best thing “Silent Sky” will do for you and the thing it does best, helps you feel human. Wearily, sadly, excitedly, joyfully, hopefully, human.