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The title of Anna Ziegler's play, "Photograph 51," is a reference to the X-ray image of DNA taken in the lab of research scientist Rosalind Franklin that was the catalyst for showing how DNA was structured.
The play, on stage at Actors' Summit through Feb. 2, takes place in the years Franklin worked with Maurice Wilkins in trying to get a clear image of DNA.
Well, "worked with" may be an exaggeration. Due to a misunderstanding regarding who would be working on what at the beginning and the two scientists' differing personalities, Franklin (played in this production by Sally Groth) and Wilkins (played by Keith Stevens) often found themselves at odds with each other. Franklin's forthright, even abrasive, nature collided frequently with Wilkins' more softspoken and polite demeanor.
The play focuses on these two figures, but they were far from the only key players in the race to figure out how DNA was formed. The other actors, along with Wilkins, often serve as a sort of Greek chorus at times, reflecting on the actions of the past and giving their interpretations of events. All of the actors stay onstage or just offstage during the entire production, which runs about 100 minutes and is performed without intermission.
Wilkins shows a copy of Franklin's photograph to young scientist James Watson (played by Benjamin Gregg) -- without her awareness or permission. Watson, who also was researching DNA along with Francis Crick (played by Arthur Chu), would use that image as a catalyst for their own theories on how DNA was put together. Watson, Crick and Wilkins would go on to win the 1962 Nobel Prize for their work.
Also in the cast are Zach Griffin, who plays Franklin's student assistant Ray Gosling, who helped capture the DNA image, and Kenneth Leep, who plays Don Caspar, a student admirer of Franklin's work who contacts her for help in his doctoral studies.
Groth said that Franklin was well-known for her work in two other fields as well: her images and research on coal and coal crystals, and for her images and studies on the tobacco mosaic virus.
"Her time in France when she was working with coal were probably the happiest in her life," Groth said. "She was so meticulous. She didn't concern herself with the other things that were going on. Her family was wealthy and very civic-minded. While they supported their daughter they didn't understand her drive for science. It's been interesting and fun learning about her and exploring what she was like. It was very exciting."
The set is more minimal than many productions of the play, said Neil Thackaberry, co-artistic director of the theater and director of this production.
"I really like the way the set works," he said. "All of the characters observe the play. You have Watson and Crick in the God seats [on the highest part of the set.] I'm pleased with how it went, and I'm glad I had the right people for this."
The set is a series of elevated platforms that form an X on stage.
Ticket and show
Tickets for "Photograph 52" are on sale through the box office at 330-374-7568 and online at actorssummit.org. The price is $33 for adults, $28 for seniors over 65; and $10 for all full-time students under 30.
The theater is on the sixth floor of historic Greystone Hall, 103 High St. in downtown Akron. The facility features barrier free access, free parking, and full bar service.
Next on stage
Actors' Summit will next produce "Bus Stop" by William Inge, which will run Feb. 20 through March 9.