"One of the few good things to come out of the need for many theaters to close their physical spaces has been the reemergence of audio plays. With the right vehicle and sound quality, these verbally painted pictures can take us on a journey far better than shaky green screen. One such perfect match of script and production value is Photograph 51, a presentation made by Audible Theater for the Williamstown Theatre Festival.
Anna Ziegler lovingly delineates each character with just a few precise strokes. She clearly illustrates the anti-semitism and misogyny that Franklin suffered — picture Mad Men with lab coats — without clubbing us over the head with incidences and gracefully shows how Franklin looked beyond the noise and kept her eyes firmly on her goal of unlocking the truth. Watson and Crick are depicted in less rosy (and less Rosie) terms, coming off as just short of cheats with Wilson as the dupe who stumbles into aiding them. And though she can’t avoid the inclusion of jargon and the “awe” of research, Ziegler enlivens their exchanges with appropriate humor.
As one would expect from a Williamstown offering, the ensemble is strong, providing nuance and pure annunciation in their reading under the direction of Susan Stroman. The work unfolds at a pace that moves swiftly, but not to the extent that it can’t be processed. Since no one can judge them for their looks (a habit I hope will be permanently broken) the casting is based solely on talent. This results in the gifts of Aasif Mandvi’s delightful interpretation of Crick and Omar Metwally’s milk toast Wilkins. The usually perky Anna Chlumsky pulls off the ultra-serious Dr. Franklin with grace. The reliable Stephen Kunken turns in an assured performance as Franklin admirer and eventual assistant Don Casper. Recent Juilliard grad David Corenswet couldn’t be any cockier as Watson. Actor/musician Ben Rosenfield rounds out the cast as doctoral student Ray Gosling stuck as a loyal player without a real team.
Audible listeners worldwide will be able to experience this top-notch performance.
Transporting us to an exciting moment in history as seen through a fascinating range of viewpoints."