Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Silent Sky
American Stage
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Brundibár

Benjamin T. Ismail, Vickie Daignault, Susan Maris,
Karel K. Wright, and Kate Berg

Photo by Joey Clay Photography
For the holiday season American Stage once again turns to America's most produced playwright, Lauren Gunderson. Last year it was Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley with its obvious seasonal tie in, and this year it's Silent Sky. To my mind, Silent Sky is the stronger play.

The play is the story of Henrietta Leavitt, an early 1900s astronomer who first mapped stars only intermittently visible and not at all to the naked eye, thereby allowing scientists who came after her to conclusively understand that there are more galaxies beyond our own. All this and she (and all other women at the time) were not allowed to look into Harvard University's telescope. I can imagine astronomy being a stifling topic for a play for some, but Silent Sky is about women's place in the world, the importance of science to our lives, and so much more. I did not lose interest for one moment of this two hour play.

Susan Maris as Henrietta has the showiest part. She is loving and warm, with Kate Berg as Henrietta's sister Margaret, who is a touch competitive. Vickie Daignault as Annie Cannon and Karel K. Wright as Williamina Fleming are the coworkers at The Harvard Observatory. Benjamin T. Ismail is delightfully bumbling as Peter. All of the cast members beautifully flesh out the well-written characters (based on real life people), but it is as an ensemble that they are at their best.

Kristin Clippard's direction is top drawer, great individual performances all blending to superlative ensemble acting. The play is extremely well written, but falters just a tiny bit at the top of act two, yet Ms. Clippard gets her cast through those moments.

Set design by Steve K. Mitchell is beautifully functional. The stage floor is a work of art to be savored before and during intermission. Costume design by Catherine Cann is lavish, Victorian come to America. Lighting design by Lynne Chase^ is detailed. Projection design by Jerid Fox (also properties master) is an important element of this play, with its moving heavenly bodies on display.

The total excellence of the Silent Sky experience, coupled with the surprise of the recent Vietgone has led me to think about American Stage under CEO/Producing Artistic Director Stephanie Gularte. The company is offering a far more diverse season than they used to, through their presentations of Fun Home and Vietgone, with Skeleton Crew coming up. This is a theater company firing on all cylinders, so bravo to Ms. Gularte and the entire company.

Silent Sky wasn't a play that brought me into Raymond James Theatre excitedly, but I sure left feeling all the emotions one feels from great theater. Whether you think the subject interests you or not, you are likely to take something away with you from this excellent play.

Silent Sky runs through December 22, 2019, at American Stage, 163 Third Street North, St. Petersburg FL. For tickets and information, visit

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Margaret Leavitt: Kate Berg
Annie Cannon
Vickie Daignault*
Peter: Benjamin T. Ismail*
Henrietta Leavitt: Susan Maris*
Williamina Fleming: Karel K. Wright*

*=Member of Actors' Equity Association