The ‘Silent Sky’ is filled with female brilliance

January 28, 2019 – Carla Delgado—We often find ourselves wondering how far can our passions take us. With “Silent Sky,” a straight play based on the life of Henrietta Leavitt, we see how a striking female astronomer managed to make an opportunity for herself despite people not giving her a chance. 

Henrietta Leavitt isn’t a name most people would recognize. This fact still sits unbelievably so, considering how largely she contributed to the great astronomical discoveries of the world. She remains unrecognized today, which sadly, is not much different from how she was seen back then. 

She was hired by the Harvard Observatory along with other women to study observable stars. They were called the “Harvard Computers.” In a very male-dominated field, they did their best to prove themselves and work on what they are passionate about. It is such a shame how little we know about them while male achievers in the same field are so widely recognized. Their findings and contribution to mankind aren’t less meaningful just because they are women. 

Written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Joy Virata, “Silent Sky’s” most iconic line goes: “The mind is sexless—and so is the sky.”

The way Henrietta set her eyes on a goal and relentlessly went after it is nothing less than admirable. There were a lot of circumstances that held her back from many things, but she never lost hope in what her work could become. Her frustration and feeling of uselessness are very relatable. Discovering a pattern in the Cepheid variables made the measurement of the universe possible, which also paved the way to the realization that there is something more than our galaxy out there.

We are but a speck in the grand scheme of things. Our lone self is among so many people in one planet, one planet out of many, in a galaxy out of many galaxies in the universe. What sets us apart is how we act with this knowledge. Do we resign out fate and accept that we can’t do anything meaningful, or do we strive and pursue with the motivation to possibly make a change, no matter how insignificant we may appear?

In the play, there was an obvious contrast between Henrietta and her sister, Margaret. Henrietta appears to be this career-oriented woman out of the two of them, leaving her hometown and following her dreams. Margaret lives the life that is usually expected of women at that time—marrying, having kids, and never leaving home. How different their lives turned out to be is something that most people ponder on: Would they much prefer to have the domestic, “normal” life, or would they want to have a legacy? (And, are those mutually exclusive?)

'Silent Sky' reminds us that we are but a speck in the grand scheme of things./Boboy Ramiro

From a play that appears to have such a serious background, the script does have some astronomical jargons but it doesn’t take you away from the story. In fact, the actors have done such a good job embodying the characters with such wit and heart that the audience cannot help but say “aww,” squeal, and laugh!

Cathy Azanza-Dy as Henrietta Leavitt really brought the audience along with her character’s journey. The audience was able to feel every bit of Henrietta’s helplessness, happiness, and celebration of success with her portrayal. She’s simply captivating to watch. She was convincing, relatable, and had complete command of the role. 

Playing her sister, Margaret, was Caisa Borromeo. We, the audience, found ourselves relating to her, not understanding Henrietta’s restlessness at first. We became part of her process of empathizing, how she eventually came into terms with it and discovered that her sister worked out of extreme passion. 

Azanza-Dy and Borromeo really captured the complicated relationship between two sisters. It’s not always easy to support one another, but love and concern will always be there.

As the newest addition to the cast, Bibeth Orteza as Annie Cannon did not disappoint. Her mere presence on that stage effortlessly displayed matriarchal presence and authority. As a strong female character, it is important that she recognized the plights of women at that time, taking part in women’s movement for suffrage. Orteza said, “And, of course, I’m a little familiar with playing the role of an activist. A little. So it’s such great feeling that I said, ‘Is this a democracy or not?!’”

Naths Everett as Williamina Fleming was an easily likable character who really made the audience laugh with her comedic timing and obvious wisdom. She shared that she practiced her Scottish accent with the help of a friend and videos from YouTube. 

“I actually showed some lines to a friend of mine, and then he recorded it for me, and then from that short thing I read the whole script already with the accent. Hopefully, hopefully, I managed to give it justice,” Everett said.

Topper Fabregas as Peter Shaw was entertaining to watch on stage. He was effective as the socially awkward, learned guy who didn’t know how to act around the woman he fancies. Throughout the play, viewers will begin to notice how they look forward to more scenes between Henrietta and Peter. Peter’s character really brings a lot of emotions to the scene whether it is love, hope, or sadness.

It is interesting that Peter Shaw is completely fictional and was used as a tool to further drive the point home when it comes to family, love, and science. He didn’t really exist, but admittedly it was a very smart way to show more aspects of Henrietta’s life.

The Repertory Philippines first staged “Silent Sky” in March last year, in time for the celebration of International Women’s Day. “Silent Sky” will be staged at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium at RCBC Plaza, Makati, on all weekends of Feb. 1 to 10.