Posts Tagged Stephanie Schliemann

Silent Sky – Play Review

NASA's Hubble Finds that Puny Stars Pack a Big...

NASA’s Hubble Finds that Puny Stars Pack a Big Punch (Photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video)

Silent Sky is a story about women and science.  Science was once a men’s domain.  This is a story of how one committed scientist unraveled mysteries of the universe and made a contribution so big that that only posterity could fully appreciate it; all because her curiosity could not be contained.  The playwright Lauren Gunderson has done a marvelous job in bringing the story of Henrietta Leavitt whose curiosity and commitment almost matched that of Galileo.  (BTW – here is a link to my review of the book “Galileo’s Daughter” by Dava Sobel –

Elena Wright in her role as Henrietta, displays the tremendous inner resolve and strength that a woman scientist needed to succeed the 1800s. Leavitt solicited her sister’s help in her mission to work at the Harvard College of Observatory, after graduating from Radcliff College, in 1893.  Jennifer Le Blanc is superb in her role as Margaret Leavitt, Henrietta’s sister.  At Harvard, Henrietta yearned to see the great refractor telescope but she was not allowed.  Instead, Henrietta worked as a “computer”, examining photographic plates (collected from observations through the telescope by other scientists) and she computed, measured, recorded and cataloged the brightness of the “variable” stars.  She worked with two older scientists.  Sarah Dacey Charles and Lynne Soffer are fantastic in the roles of Annie Cannon and Willamina Fleming who were participating in the women’s suffrage movement, while working at Harvard.

These are strong women.  Matt Citron plays the role of Peter Shaw, a fellow scientist at Harvard.  Among four strong female characters, Shaw holds his own.  There is a beautiful ying and yang balance.  While the women are strong and try to hide their softer core, the only man in the play is gentle, shy in expressing his feelings of affection to Henrietta and as conflicted about proper way to deal with cultural expectations and with the separation of the domains of men and women, as the women are.

As a computer, Leavitt was widely successful, cataloging greater and greater number of stars and their luminosity, even as she began to question her work. “What is the point of all this work, if it cannot tell us where we are in the universe”, she asks.  But one day, while listening to her sister play the piano and its rhythm, it occurs to Leavitt that brightness of the stars can be closely linked with the distance.  That was the beautiful moment of synergy between math and music.  Indeed, if this was to be true, the universe would be much bigger than had been assumed to be.  Further, there would be other galaxies and universes.  This was a novel idea at the time.  Leavitt noticed that variable stars showed a predictable pattern where brighter ones had longer periods of luminosity.  This period/ luminosity relationship later allowed the scientists to compute distances to faraway galaxies and later from this work Harlow Shapley was able to move our Sun out from the center of the galaxy and Edwin Hubble to move our galaxy out from the center of the universe.

Almost 300 years after Galileo, Leavitt displayed similar courage to follow her passion and quench her curiosity for knowledge, and Like Galileo, Leavitt changed the picture of our universe forever.  This is a play that honors this great scientist and the sacrifices that society demanded of women who sought to play in the men’s world.  The stage as the observatory at Harvard is fantastic and when Henrietta looks at the shimmering stars, it almost transports the audience to what she might be thinking and feeling.  Great kudos to Jamie D. Mann, Stage Manager and Stephanie Schliemann, Assistant Stage Manager, and Scenic Designer, Annie Smart.  Also great kudos to Director, Meredith McDonough and many thanks to Artistic Director, Robert Kelly for continuing to expand our horizons with fabulous shows.  The Silent Sky will be running at till February, 9 and I would not miss it for the world.


Dceph (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Love, Loss, and What I Wore – Play Review

Based on a book by Ilene Beckerman, written for stage by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron, the play “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” is a collection of stories about women and their experiences with life.  While the Ephron sisters spent years researching and working on transforming the book, in a play, they discovered, that when you ask women about their clothes, they come up with stories about their lives.  It is almost like when you want to understand emotional impact of traumatic events on little boys, you play with them and through their play, they will share.

Well, so it is with women.  Out come from the pages of their diaries, stories and intimate details of events, people, and places and their recollection about clothes.  With whom they went shopping, how particular clothes made them feel, who gave them the gift of clothing and what it meant, and clothes they stopped wearing.  A fabulous cast of Dee Hoty, Sandra Tsing Loh, Ashley Austin Morris, Zuzanna Szadkowski, and Dawn Wells share stories that span a gamut, from conversations with friends to conversations inside a dressing room, to dialogs inside one’s head while going through their closets.

Any woman can identify with these dressing room dialogs, either to self or to a shopping companion.  “I am size 8”; “Do you have this in size 12”; “I look so pale in green”; “I can’t decide”; “Is my butt too big?”; “I think my butt is too big”.  And which woman has not had some of these conversations with themselves, when going through their closets?  “I have nothing to wear”; “I should clear out my closet”; “I should throw out what I don’t wear in over two years”; “when did I buy this”; “this can’t be mine”.  What woman has not agonized over “I’d be great in high heels but my feet hurt”; “my feet hurt so much I can’t think”.  How many women loose themselves in their purses, when looking for an item?  Purses that collect every imaginable type of junk, lipsticks without lids, hard to differentiate clean from dirty crumpled cleenex tissues, tampons, hotel keys, pens and more.

Some of the stories in the play are funny, others are sentimental; yet others bring back long dormant memories, and others are sad.   A woman recollects how she gave up wearing miniskirts, after being raped, though she refused to stop wearing her favorite boots; and another woman who freaked out as a little girl when she saw her step mother wear a bathrobe exactly like what her late mother owned, in a different color.  These are not stories about clothes.  These are poignant tales of these women’s lives.  Two lesbians, whose families took opposing attitudes regarding their marriage, had great anxieties about their wedding attire.  A cancer survivor decided to have a tattoo on her newly reconstructed breast, instead of a nipple.  There are stories about mothers who disapprove, men who are unworthy, complicated relationship with sisters who are infinitely trying but got your back; stories about denial, about acceptance, embarrassment, lack of confidence, guilt, and gratefulness.

Don’t miss the play, directed by Karen Carpenter; creative staging by Jessica Simkins and Stephanie Schliemann, scenic design by Jo Winiarski, sound by Walter Trarback, and lighting by Charlie Cooper (original lighting by Jeff Croiter).  Women, go watch the play with your girlfriends and after the play, over dinner, you will be moved to share with each other, wonderful, warm stories, from your own lives.  And men, if you go with your spouse or girlfriend or sister or mother, do be gentle in your teasing.  For tickets, go to .

Women's dresses

Women’s dresses (Photo credit: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums)


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A Minister’s Wife — Play Review

A Minister’s Wife – Play Review

“Candida here, and Candida there, and Candida Everywhere! Oh the enchantment.”  The musical “A Minister’s Wife”, currently playing at San Jose Rep, based on a book by Austin Pendleton, based on the original George Bernard Shaw’s “Candida”, is conceived and brilliantly directed by Michael Halberstam.  Enchanting lyrics by Jan Levy Tranen capture the essence of Shaw’s wit; music is provided by Joshua Schmidt and Musical Director is Dolores Duran-Cefalu.

What notions about love did Victorian women hold?  Did they mindlessly bid, as they were told?  The plot centers around beautiful and gorgeous Candida (Sharon Rietkerk is brilliant in the role), facing a choice between her smart but stuffy husband, the Rev. Morell and lovestruck, passionate, young poet, Eugene Marchbanks (brilliantly played by Christopher Vettel and Tim Homsley respectively).  Rev. Morell, a Christian socialist, aspires to change the world.  He is rudely confronted and accused by Marchbanks, who believes his own love for Candida to be superior to Morell’s and tells Morell, “you selfishly blindly sacrifice her (Candida) to your pious ambitions”.  Morell, who harbored no doubt that others would be swayed by his lofty words and speeches, has his confidence greatly shaken as Marchbanks says, “is it always like this for her, with your metaphors, your rhetoric, your speeches?”  Jarrod Zimmerman playing the role of The Reverend “Lexy” Mill and Liz Baltes in the role of Miss Proserpine “Prossy” are brilliant.

Candida (Sharon Rietkerk), her husband (Christopher Vettel) and a poet (Tim Homsley). Photo: Kevin Berne




With little doubt that his wife loves the young poet, Rev. Morell confronts Candida and demands that she make a choice.  “I am up for auction, it seems”, say says, “I am waiting to hear your bid”.  What does each of them offer and who does she choose?  In their desire to gain her love, as they jostle with what they can offer, Marchbanks, a poet, foolishly, madly in love, is week and desolate.  And what can Morell offer; a reverend “spoiled from the cradle, spoiled from the alter”, living in a “castle of comfort”, built by his wife?  Shaw’s brilliant play is a tribute to the hidden strength of the women.  It reminded me of a line from the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, “the man is the head, but the woman is the neck that turns the head.”

Stephanie Schliemann and Deirdre Rose Holland have done a fabulous job as Stage Managers and Brandin Baron’s Costume Design transports the audience back in time, without any obvious appearance of absurdness.  I absolutely loved the musical and am certain it will play to sold out audiences.  For tickets, go to .

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Disconnect – Play Review

Set in a collection agency branch located in Chennai, India, this remarkable play is written by Anupama Chandrasekhar and directed by Rick Lombardo.  It is bold, brash, funny, tragic and deeply moving and insightful.  The three call center employees, Imran Sheikh (as Ross), Sharone Sayegh (as Vidya), and Ray Singh (as Giri), have done a superb job of bringing to life the intense stress of working in the pressure cooker call center environment.  They must deal not only with the pressure to meet their target numbers, but the excitement when they get promise of a payment, and the cost of empathizing with their American clients who have missed their credit card payments.  Their boss, Rajesh Bose (as Avinash), coaches them that their job is simply to stay focused, make a connection, and get these spend thrift Americans, struggling in the recession, to start making payments.  The goal is to forge a bond only to get them to pay, not to get overly attached; “They are different people from us”, Avinash says.

The company, True Blue, faces competition from the Philippines, for outsourced jobs.  Shrill, wired manager Devon Ahmed (as Jyothi) demotes Avinash, who is not meeting his quotas, from head of a “New York team” to an “Illinois team”.  She tells him he should not be unhappy as that would show his resistance to change.  “We need happy people, so we have happy customers; that is why we have smileys everywhere”, she says.  For these semi-human-machines often expected to work ten hour night shifts, with short, timed breaks, their family life and social life also take a toll.   Their clients and customers on the other side of the globe, are rising after a night’s rest to the bitter daytime reality of their dwindling economic situation, only to be pestered by people with strange accents, who have taken away their jobs, and are now demanding to set up payment plans.  When the pressure becomes unbearable for people on either side of the planet, or when real attachment is forged, the consequences are disastrous.

BPO, or Business Process Outsourcing, has elevated the status of many people in various regions of the world.  But this change comes with the costs and the play shows the bitter call center reality.  Often these call centers are located in busy, crowded cities, with small, confined, windowless office environments, where employees talk on top of each other and relieve stress by relying on coffee, coca cola, and pranks they play on each other.   Various stereotypes about age, gender, skin color, and cultural differences are callously thrown about.

This is a thought provoking, not-to-miss play.  For anyone interested in cultural issues and in examining the cost of technology, change, and globalization, there is a lot to digest.  We can see the broader impact of Business Process Outsourcing, reorganization, and organizational competition on people who are often pawns in a larger game; both the employees and the customers.   Complements to Yoon Bae, the Scenic Designer, for creating the mood and atmosphere of a call center.  In “Disconnect”, Director Rick Lombardo and the stage management team, Laxmi Kumaran and Stephanie Schliemann, have done a marvelous job of bringing to life the complex reality of the connected world.  The play is currently running at the San Jose Repertory Theater and tickets can be purchased at .

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