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DNA drama 

Science and technology aren’t normally hot topics to get you rushing to the theater. An unsung heroine written out of one of the most competitive chases in the history of science, however, is certainly worth your attention.

click to enlarge PHOTOGRAPH 51: - IMAGE COURTESY OF THE SLO LITTLE THEATRE
  • IMAGE COURTESY OF THE SLO LITTLE THEATRE
  • PHOTOGRAPH 51:

Playwright Anna Ziegler combines scientific subject matter with theatrical mastery. Her play Photograph 51 was named one of the top 10 shows of 2011 by The Washington Post and is winner of the 2008 Stage International Script Competition for Best New Play. Ubu’s Other Shoe, a program of staged readings at SLO Little Theatre, now in its ninth season, is presenting the show Nov. 9 and 10.

The play tells the untold story of Rosalind Franklin, a British biophysicist and research associate at King’s College, London. Her work with X-ray imaging revealed DNA’s double helix structure, resulting in the Nobel Prize for Francis Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins. While the men retain their status as famous figures in the scientific world, Franklin’s contribution is largely unknown.

Director Michael Siebrass’ vision for the production focuses on simplicity, he said, explaining, “All I want to do is tell the story, a story unfamiliar to most people.”

The play isn’t a feminist tract or an attempt to stigmatise the male characters as misogynistic villains. It’s a complex narrative that brings wider fame to a talented female scientist. Franklin’s role in the discovery was distorted, and the play aims to showcase the ambition and the isolation in competing in a masculine-dominated industry.

As Siebrass notes, “while Watson and Crick and their discovery are well known to educated people, Rosalind Franklin and her contribution to that discovery are not, which is often the case with the contributions of women, especially in science. Add to that the fact that the discovery of the double helix of DNA is arguably one of the most important discoveries in the history of science, and you have the material for a very good play.”

With a combination of brilliant writing and a fresh directorial vision, it seems that that the unlikely theme of biophysics will make for an evening of compelling theater.

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