The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
Writing for Us

A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Photograph 51

You think if you were to give an inch, we would take a mile, is that it? —— Wilkins
It's true, isn't it? —— Rosalind
Photograph 51
Graham Norris & Aria Alpert in Photograph 51
(Photo: Ed Krieger)
This fascinating scientific suspense story took place in real life before our very eyes back in the 1950s during the race to discover the structure of DNA. James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for the discovery. Not mentioned was Dr. Rosalind Franklin, Wilkins' colleague, who took Photograph 51, the initial impetus for Crick and Watson's subsequent discovery. After her death from cancer in 1958, Crick and Watson acknowledged that they could not have discovered the DNA without her work. Too bad she never knew.

This stunning production of Anna Ziegler's prize-winning play is whipped into a tightly-paced 90 minutes by director Simon Levy at The Fountain Theatre. Set designer Travis Gale Lewis and lighting designer Kathi O'Donohue shroud the stage in dimness, like the mystery surrounding the elusive double Helix. Spotlights pinpoint the characters, beginning with Aria Alpert, luminous as a prickly, independent Rosalind; Daniel Billet as her socially clumsy colleague Wilkins; Ian Gould, a vivid character as the greedy boy genius Watson; Kerby Joe Grubb as his colleague Crick; Ross Helwig as the dashing American scientist Casper, as close to a love interest as Rosalind gets; and Graham Norris as the doctoral student Gosling, whose unobtrusive flair for comedy should be exploited in some other production.

The competitive world of scientific discovery was largely closed to women in the 1950s when they were not even permitted to have lunch in the University's senior common room. Wilkins, who is portrayed as falling for Rosalind, eventually wants to work with her but it's too late. Ziegler depicts Rosalind as her own worst enemy. Whether rightly suspicious or a loner, she rejects all efforts to collaborate and works slowly, not realizing the race she is in. She apparently never knew that Wilkins, innocently or with obtuse resentment for her rejection of him personally and professionally, showed her Photograph 51 to Watson and Crick, who immediately grasped its significance and worked night and day to finalize the discovery and claim it as their own.

Although the play's scientific jargon may be too dense for the average viewer, it's delivered sparsely and in careful doses as the characters frantically scribble formulas on blackboards. Rosalind makes poetic references to her childhood and inherent character, describing how she arranges leaves not for themselves but to trace their veins. Her love for Caspar may or may not have been real, as the playwright always prefaces her romantic speeches to him as things Rosalind might have said. Also mysteriously vague is her deliberate carelessness around an X-ray machine. When Gosling screams he wouldn't endanger himself by standing in its rays, he says that to himself, not to her. The conjecture lingers that this may be a cause of the cancerous ovarian tumors that killed Rosalind at age 37.

Played by Alpert in the lab scenes with chilly dignity, Rosalind gets her moments of release from Ziegler in scenes where she climbs mountains and screams bad words into the wind or dreams of a love with Caspar in words she never speaks to him. Ziegler superbly sculpts the humanity and emotional lives of these scientists into their race for the prize.

The play was the winner of the 2008 Stage International Script Competition for Best New Play About Science and Technology. It well deserves the honor and this production does it justice.

Photograph 51
Playwright: Anna Ziegler
Director: Simon Levy
Producer: Bennett Bradley
Cast: Aria Alpert (Rosalind), Daniel Billet (Wilkins), Ian Gould (Watson), Kerby Joe Grubb (Crick), Ross Hellwig (Casper), Graham Norris (Gosling)
Set Design: Travis Gale Lewis
Costume Design: Shon LeBlanc
Lighting Design: Kathi O'Donohue
Hair/Make-Up: Judi Lewin
Sound Design: Peter Stenshoel
Dialect Coach: JB Blanc
Production Stage Manager: Elna Kordijan
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: March 21-May 3, 2009
Where: The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave, Los Angeles. Reservations: (323) 663-1525
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on March 21, 2009.

Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Photograph 51
  • I disagree with the review of Photograph 51
  • The review made me eager to see Photograph 51
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

You can also contact us at Curtainup at Facebook or Curtainup at Twitter
South Pacific  Revival
South Pacific

In the Heights
In the Heights

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide

Sweeney Todd DVD

The Broadway Theatre Archive>


©Copyright 2009, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from