Photograph 51 Play Review – Gender, Power and Ambition

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Chicago’s highly acclaimed Court Theater (5535 S. Ellis Ave), under the leadership of Charles Newell, Marilyn F. Vitale Artistic Director, and Executive Director Angel Ysaguirre, continues its 2018/19 season with Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler and directed by Vanessa Stalling. Photograph 51 runs January 17 – February 17, 2019.


Chaon Cross (Dr. Rosalind Franklin)


History may well remember the work of Watson and Crick that shaped biology, but it was British chemist Rosalind Franklin who provided the key to the double helix DNA discovery. Photograph 51 shares the complex story of an ambitious female scientist in a world of men, her pursuit for the secret of life, and her forgotten accomplishments.


Photograph 51 is a wonderful 90 minute tale that gives recognition and the tribute to Dr. Franklin, that she never received. The role of Rosalind Franklin was beautifully and passionately portrayed by Chaon Cross, who has quite an extensive list of stage, television, and movie roles on her resume. She portrayed Dr. Franklin as the genius, strong, and determined scientist that she was. The play definitely rings true with the present times, as women are still struggling and fighting for the recognition, rights and respect in the workforce, that their male colleagues are able to obtain more easily. Women are due the credit they are owed for their work and contributions in so many different fields.


Nathan Hosner (Maurice Wilkins) and Chaon Cross (Dr. Rosalind Franklin)

Ms. Cross stood out as the only female in a mostly male dominated circle, as was the reality of the real Dr. Franklin’s work and the environment during her lifetime. A fine ensemble of performers worked well with Ms. Cross onstage including Nathan Hosner as her colleague, Maurice Wilkins, Alex Goodrich and Nicholas Harazin as her science rivals James Watson and Francis Crick, Gabriel Ruiz as her PhD student, Ray Gosling, and Yousof Sultani as Don Caspar, a recent university graduate who greatly admires Dr. Franklin, who was granted a fellowship and eventually worked for her.


Chaon Cross (Dr. Rosalind Franklin) and Gabriel Ruiz (Ray Gosling)

Maybe even more impressive than the cast itself was the stage and set design, costumes, and the scientific laboratory and props from this time period. Only the best and most historically accurate pieces were utilized, based on what Dr Franklin used herself when photographing and taking x-rays of the double DNA helix. In order to bring the time period and story to life, Court Theater collaborated with the University of Chicago Departments of biochemistry and molecular biology professors and experts, who offered the theater invaluable insight into the history of X-ray crystallography and Dr. Franklin’s original work.


Dr. Keith Moffat, Ph.D. from the department of biochemistry and molecular biology, personally loaned the theater historic scientific instruments for the production, as well as demonstrating how to properly operate them. While sitting with the audience, as I watched Chaon Cross look through microscopes and take x-rays of DNA with large pieces of equipment, we were taken back in time to Dr. Franklin’s science labs in the basements of King’s College 1950s England.


Nathan Hosner (Maurice Wilkins) and Chaon Cross (Dr. Rosalind Franklin)


The genius behind Court Theater’s production of Photograph 51 is Chicago director, Vanessa Stalling, along with the designers, actors, and production members, who breathed life and soul into the true story of Dr. Rosalind Franklin and her unrecognized, breakthrough contributions to science. This production has relevance today, and also brings to life a great role model to inspire future female Nobel Peace Prize winners.


Photographs: Michael Brosilow


Performance Schedule:
Wednesdays: 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays: 7:30 p.m.
Fridays: 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays: 2:00 p.m. (except January 19 & 26) and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays: 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.


Location: Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave.


Tickets: $38-$56 previews

$50-$74 regular run


*For ticket and subscription orders, call the box office at (773) 753-4472, or visit the website.


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