In a modern tragedy, the Flathead Valley Community College (FVVC) Theatre will tell the true story of Rosalind Franklin in a performance about an underappreciated scientist who died before receiving credit for her research.
The award-winning play “Photograph 51” illustrates Franklin’s story and her X-ray crystallography photograph of the double helix structure of DNA, which scientists James Watson and Francis Crick used in their own research, earning them a Nobel Prize. Franklin died of ovarian cancer, which may have resulted from exposure to X-ray radiation.
“She was a groundbreaker as far as women’s roles in science and she was at an extreme disadvantage,” FVCC Associate Professor Rich Haptonstall said. “It’s just that dichotomy of what should have happened and what did happen … It’s just good theater.”
While many science plays exist, Haptonstall says very few of them are good. But “Photograph 51” is an exception because of the complicated dynamics between scientists and their stories.
“It makes good theater when it’s done well,” he said.
Haptonstall says the play is written somewhat cinematically, meaning there are several scene locations, including Cambridge, different scientific labs and even a bar.
“But I can’t build a set for all of those things,” Haptonstall said. “The idea is it’s swift and fast moving … It needs to be this sort of swirling, constantly moving, no-lights-out sort of thing. And yet, it’s about science, which is cold.”
Steel tables create the different scenes in the play, and Haptonstall says the lights never go out and there’s no scene change, with actors moving props around constantly.
In the 6-person cast, FVCC student Caitlyn Goeman plays the thick-skinned Franklin. Haptonstall stresses the importance of Franklin’s personality in a time when there were different expectations of women’s behavior.
“She was a product of her own downfall,” Haptonstall said. “She was cold. She was prickly. She was un-personable. She did not like to collaborate. She had a chip on her shoulder.”
Goeman had recently taken FVCC’s Science on Stage course in which they read Photograph 51. Science on Stage is a relatively new honors course at the college, which teaches a cross-disciplinary blend of science and theater. Haptonstall and a biology teacher team-teach their respective disciplines, creating a unique and diverse course.
While the FVCC Theatre is separate from the Theatre Arts program, many students in the associate’s degree program participate in the theatre’s productions, which also involve nonstudents. Although FVCC doesn’t have a bachelor’s program for theater, students often easily transfer to the University of Montana and Central Washington University.
FVCC Theatre will host “Photograph 51” on Thursday, Feb. 20 through Saturday, Feb. 22 and Feb. 27 through Feb. 29 in the campus theatre located inside the Arts and Technology Building. All performances are at 7 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased at the FVCC Bookstore or the box office or online at www.fvcc.edu/theatre.
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