Photograph 51

"With that goal in mind, there are really only two questions to be answered. Is Photograph 51 a story worth telling and, most importantly, is it a story well told?

The answer to both is yes."

06-11-2016 | HARRY DUKE

What’s a group of young actors to do when they want to continue to challenge themselves and develop their talents by undertaking roles they would never have a shot of getting cast in by a “mainstream” theatre company? The new Redwood Theatre Company’s answer is to produce a no-budget version themselves and hope the audience understands the goal.

Which brings me to Photograph 51, their semi-inaugural production currently at the end of its brief run at the Santa Rosa Dance Theatre. Commissioned by a Maryland theatre company in 2007, first produced in 2008 and only sporadically seen since then, Anna Ziegler’s play about the unsung heroine behind the cracking of the DNA code hit it big last year in London’s West End where Nicole Kidman’s performance as Dr. Rosalind Franklin wowed the critics (and is scheduled for a Broadway run later this year.) Director Alex Sterling caught the show while studying abroad, and immediately thought of it as a vehicle for RTC Artistic Director Carmen Mitchell – her first non-musical – and their other acting associates.

So, in a modern-day twist on the old Judy Garland – Mickey Rooney “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!” spirit, they’ve converted a dance studio into a black box theatre, hung a few lights from Home Depot, gathered some costumes and props that might be period appropriate, set up a few rows of patio chairs and invited audiences in to see what a group of young, committed actors can do with limited resources in their desire for artistic growth.

With that goal in mind, there are really only two questions to be answered. Is Photograph 51 a story worth telling and, most importantly, is it a story well told?

The answer to both is yes.

One wouldn’t think you could spend 100 minutes dramatizing lab work, but Ziegler’s play really isn’t about the work. It’s about the people behind it, their relationships, their drives, the competitive nature of human beings and the sacrifices often made in the quest for knowledge. It’s a fascinating story, complete with elements of sexism, anti-Semitism and elitism common for the era (the 1950’s) that we’d like to think we’ve gotten past.

In the telling of this story we have a group of actors – Ms. Mitchell, Mr. Sterling, Adriano Brown, Ryan Whitlock, Brett Mollard, and Kot Takahashi – most of whom are a decade or two younger than their characters, absolutely committing to those characters under the direction of Sterling and Ron Smith and, for the most part, pulling it off. The occasional anachronistic body movement or vocal inconsistency was offset by an appreciation of the company’s goal and for the overall quality of effort.

If you go to this show accustomed to seeing an expensive set, or detailed costumes or fancy technical elements that assist you in your acceptance of the “world of the play”, you’re likely to be disappointed.

If you go to the show with the desire to see an interesting story told by a troupe of players seeking an opportunity to grow in their craft with your assistance as an audience, you will likely feel rewarded.

You either buy into what this talented group is attempting to do, or you don’t. I bought in.

Photograph 51

presented by the Redwood Theatre Company

June 10 – June 12

Fri @ 4pm & 8pm, Sat & Sun @ 2pm and 8pm

Santa Rosa Dance Company 569 Summerfield Rd Santa Rosa, CA 95405

Photos by RTC

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