UDM’s ‘Photograph 51’ blends theatre with STEM

The University of Detroit Mercy Theatre company will be opening the second mainstage production of its 53rd Season with Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler. The story is about the life of unsung hero Rosalind Franklin, a prominent British crystallographer, and her contributions to the development and discovery of DNA.   

Opening night is Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at the Marlene Boll Theatre in downtown Detroit. The show runs from Feb 9-18 with Sunday matinee performances beginning at 3 p.m.  

The play takes place during the 1950s at King’s College in London when Franklin arrives at the lab and discovers that she is the only woman there. The study becomes complicated and compromised when her lab partner Dr. Wilkins has trouble “playing nicely” with a woman as intelligent (and stubborn) as Franklin is. Things escalate even more when two rival scientists, Watson and Crick, decide to turn this study into a race with the winner getting their name engraved in the historical record forever.  

The play sheds light on women's difficulties during that era, especially pioneering women in scientific fields. Raising questions surrounding passion, drive and perseverance against a system working against you.  

The cast of Photographer 51 is composed of one woman, Franklin, and five males, her colleagues. This accurately reflects her time spent researching at the lab in London. It also is a commentary on the scientific profession at large concerning the inclusion of women,especially during the period of the 1950s and also in the field of STEM today. 

Student actor Katherine Mutschler, who portrays Franklin, describes the play as an “inspiring and cathartically frustrating representation of women being underestimated and unappreciated.” 

Director Kennikki Jones-Jones commends Mutschler’s character for “her fight and endurance in pursuit of a technological breakthrough against cultural restraints and pressure teaches us all about something.”  

In collaboration with the Department of Biology, Dr. Stephanie Conant will be leading a discussion titled “Breaking Barriers, Building Opportunity.” The discussion will revolve around women in STEM and those who find similar paths to Franklin's. This event is a part of the ongoing series of the Detroit Theatre Discussion Project and will be presented post-show after Feb. 11’s performance. 

When discussing the impact and messages that the audience may take away from the performance, Jones-Jones said, “There is no final frontier.  We as humans will always be trying to understand the mysteries of the world no matter the field of study.Rosalind's passion to discover and seek out the known unknown is familiar to many.” 

You can join the University of Detroit Mercy Theatre Company in telling a story from history that would change the future of the way we would come to understand ourselves. Be prepared for passion, discovery, and rivalry as the cast of Photograph 51 takes us along for the telling of Franklin’s life of scientific pursuit.  

Tickets can be purchased by calling the University of Detroit Mercy Theatre Company ticket office or online at https://detroitmercyarts.universitytickets.com/. Limited tickets are also available on performance days at the Box Office in the theatre.