Maine West High School will present its fall play, "Silent Sky," the true story of 19th-century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, in a production that examines a woman's place in society during a time of scientific change, when women's ideas were routinely ignored or dismissed until men took credit for them.
"Think 'Hidden Figures,' only 60 years earlier and with astronomy instead of space travel," says Maine West Director Brent Shaphren, referring to the 2016 Oscar-nominated drama that recounts how black women mathematicians worked sans credit behind the scenes to solve the complex equations required for NASA's successful missions.
The message, Shaphren says, is that "when we marginalize any group of people, we risk cutting off the contributions they could make."
"Silent Sky" tells the story of Henrietta Leavitt, who, as she began working at the Harvard Observatory in the early 1900s, wasn't allowed to touch a telescope or express an original idea.
Instead, she joined a group of women "computers," charting the stars for a renowned astronomer who calculated projects in "girl hours" and had no time for the women's probing theories.
As a synopsis explains: "As Henrietta, in her free time, tried to measure the light and distance of stars, she also had to take measure of her own life, trying to balance her dedication to science with family obligations and the possibility of love.
"'Silent Sky' shows how social progress, like scientific progress, can be hard to see when one is trapped among earthly complications. Henrietta Leavitt and her female peers believed in both, and they changed the way we understand both the heavens and Earth."
Maine West has provided a strong cross-curricular tie with this production, as an astronomy class taught by Jennifer Ellsberg has worked with the Fine Arts contingent to provide a strong astronomy presence, including a NASA slideshow and a 60-foot timeline located at the theater entrance that begins with Big Bang and extends to today.
Showtimes are 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, and 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 13 and 14. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 with a student discount. Call (847) 803-5895 for tickets and information. Maine West is at 1755 S. Wolf Road in Des Plaines.