March 9, 2012

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It seems fairly insignificant, a gray-scale photo of a X, but its implications are earth-shattering...

Photograph 51 paved the way for the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA and its method of replication. This progression from X-rays to Nobel prizes is the sparking point for fine drama in Anna Zeigler's staged version of the history: Photograph 51, now at the English Theater Berlin.

For those of you who're already turned off by the idea of a biology lecture posing as theater, this play isn't about the science, it's about the people whose careers, hopes and dreams depend on it. Because, unlike history would have us believe, it wasn't Watson and Crick who really discovered the double helix, it was a researcher at Kings College named Rosalind Franklin: a Jewish woman trying to work in the male-dominated world of science in the 1950s.

Ziegler's text includes the meta-theatrical gimmick of pausing the real-time action, and then allowing the characters to comment on what they really meant or how it should have all gone differently. This serves the rather handy purpose of giving the characters some depth and offering another way of explaining the science and issues involved. It also makes the truth of the history even more difficult to judge, as characters' memories prove to be biased, and emotions color the facts.

In this current production, directed by Günther Grosser and with a beautiful set from Thomas Fitzpatrick, these layers of dialogue are organized physically, with commentary from the characters coming from sides of the stage and the action taking place in the center.

Unfortunately it's still not always clear if the characters are commenting or speaking dialogue, because the lines are delivered without the required finesse. The performers' comic timing redeems the production, which though it lacks a certain degree of warmth, makes for an engaging evening of theater that manages to educate as well as entertain.

Photograph 51, through Mar 10, 20:00 | English Theatre Berlin, Fidicinstr. 40, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Platz der Luftbrücke


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