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Silent Sky and
Easy Come, Easy Go: The Music of Johnny Green

Also see Patrick's review of Journey's End


A Charming Production of Lauren Gunderson's Silent Sky


Elena Wright, Sarah Dacey Charles and Lynne Soffer
Photo by Tracy Martin
Lauren Gunderson is one of our up and coming playwrights. This past year the Bay Area has seen two of her very interesting dramas, By and By and I and You, and San Francisco Playhouse will present Bauer in March. Her beautiful lyrical drama Silent Sky is playing at TheatreWorks in Mountain View until February 9th. Under the sterling direction of Meredith McDonough this delightful production explores the world of astronomy and women's place in this field in the early 20th century.

Silent Sky is the story of pioneering American astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, who in the early 20th century made a breakthrough discovery that assisted experts in measuring distances in the sparkling universe.

The audience first meets Henrietta (Elena Wright) outside her New England childhood home. She has just graduated from Ratcliff and is full of life. She is interested in astronomy, to the consternation of her religious older sister Margaret (Jennifer Le Blanc). Henrietta spends all of her dowry money to go to Harvard, hoping for a shot at working with the world's finest telescope. Unfortunately, upon arriving at observatory she finds she is not allowed to get near the telescope since only males are permitted at the core of the observatory. She is given a job in what the others call a "harem," as one of the women "computers." These were women who catalogued the brightness of stars in photographic plates from the telescope at 30 cents an hour.

Henrietta meets fellow employees Williamina Fleming (Lynne Soffer) and Annie Jump Cannon (Sarah Dacey Charles) along with her immediate boss, self-righteous scientist Peter Shaw (Matt Citron). Later in the play the awkward Peter becomes a love interest for Henrietta. Much of the second act is centered around the nicely rendered courtship scenes between the two.

Silent Sky is probably Gunderson's best work so far. There are bursts of clever, infectious humor, especially from the mouth of Williamina Fleming, along with sparkling conversation among the three women working in the office of the observatory.

Meredith McDonough has effectively orchestrated this period piece about astronomical cartography. Elena Wright gives a beautiful performance as Henrietta. She shows the terrific spunky side of the amateur astronomer who, even with a slight hearing problem and the prejudice against woman in this field, succeeded in coming up with significant observations on the universe that helped paved the way for luminaries such as Edwin Hubble to prove the Milky Way is its own galaxy.

Lynne Soffer is splendid as the wisecracking Williamina, sporting a wonderful Scottish accent, with the best witty lines of the play. Sarah Dacey Charles gives a perfect portrayal of the snappish women's rights advocate Annie.

Jennifer Le Blanc gives an interesting nuanced performance as the sister Margaret who alternates between devoutness and antipathy. Matt Citron gives an impressive performance as the awkward supervisor Peter.

Anne Smart has devised a marvelous set with an observatory at center stage and a sky ablaze with twinkling stars, and Fumiko Bielefeldt has designed some wonderful hoop skirts. Lighting designer Paul Toben brilliantly lights the sky with sparkling lights to represent stars.

Silent Sky runs through February 9th at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View. For tickets please call 650-463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org. Coming up next is the exuberant Caribbean musical Once on this Island at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto.


Perceptive Interpretation by Vocalist Linda Kosut of Composer Johnny Green's Rarely Heard Songs

Multi-award winning Linda Kosut, a San Francisco based singer whose warm, lush sounding voice brings fresh takes to music old and new, brought new her show called Easy Come, Easy Go: The Music of Johnny Green to the Society Cabaret on January 17 and 18. The consummate artist is known for her mastery of a broad range of musical styles from jazz to folk to pop. Backed by the incomparable Mike Greensill Trio, with Mike on piano, Alan Hall on drums, and Tom Shader on bass, she delivered her material with reassured delight in a throaty alto voice.

The singer succeeded in showing the versatility in the very talented Johnny Green's melodies, working with various lyricists such as Ed Heyman, Leo Robin, Ted Koehler, Yip Harburg and Johnny Mercer. Many of the songs have not been heard in clubs and cabarets, such as two written for Deanna Durbin in the 1948 film Something in the Wind: The rarely heard "The Turntable Song" and "You Wanna Keep Your Baby Looking Right" were pleasantly sung by the chanteuse.

The artist poignantly sang a 1929 song written for Gertrude Lawrence called "Candlelight," and she also spritely sang "Betty Boop," the theme song for the 1932 cartoon of the same name (Linda and Mike Greensill have jazzily adapted it for the trio). The songstress was articulate in such songs as "Derry Down Dilly," which was written for Marge Champion for the film Everything I Have is Yours, and she also sang with great feeling "There's a Ring Around the Moon."

Linda Kosut rendered two of Johnny Green's best known songs, the great jazz standards "I Cover the Waterfront" and "Body and Soul," with excellent backup from the Greensill Trio.

Between the songs the songstress talked to the audience, sharing the background of a song's history, though it never interrupted the flow of the set piece. She certainly put a fresh slant on some of the little known songs of Johnny Green. This was a classy and intimate evening at Society Cabaret in the Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter Street, San Francisco. For a list of upcoming shows go to www.societycabaret.com.

- Richard Connema



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