Anna Zieglers play about British DNA researcher, had an honorable if unspectacular debut in 2010. But just this week, it opened in London with Nicole Kidman in the lead, putting the play and Franklin back in the headlines.
In science and theater, timing matters. British DNA researcher Rosalind Franklins early death at 37, from ovarian cancer is one reason she is largely unheralded, while several of her male colleagues won the Nobel Prize. Photograph 51, Anna Zieglers play about Franklin, had an honorable if unspectacular debut in 2010. But just this week, it opened in London with a certain A-list film diva (oh, OK: Its Nicole Kidman), putting the play and Franklin back in the headlines.
This is indeed good timing for Lantern Theater Co.s version, which will likely benefit from the attention. Theres no movie star here playing Franklin but we have the excellent Genevieve Perrier, who gives an impassioned, accomplished performance. Perriers exquisite appearance suggests fragility, yet she has powerful, take-no-prisoners delivery, and the combination works to great effect. She is also the one actor here who moves effortlessly from Photograph 51s narrative passages into the conversational scenes.
About that narration theres a lot of it (sadly, this has become ubiquitous playwriting short-hand for conveying plot details), and its spoken by the cast in confident, ringing tones. Too often, though, director Kathryn MacMillans minimalist production doesnt sufficiently mark the distinctions between sections of direct address and the more intimate, connected moments. Most of the male characters, consequently, fail to register on a human scale. (Theyre by and large not a likeable lot smart but socially awkward and gauchely competitive.)
To Zieglers credit, Photograph 51 makes it clear that Franklins relative obscurity is the result of many complicated factors not merely that she was a woman in an old boys club, though she was certainly that, too. Audiences are likely to leave feeling entertained and edified (though the script is not all that science-heavy).
But it would be better if both the play and production seemed more like actual people talking in real-life situations and less like a series of headlines read by an ensemble of announcers.
Through Oct. 11, Lantern Theater Co. at St. Stephens Theater, 923 Ludlow St., 215-829-0395, lanterntheater.org.