“Photograph 51” at Seattle Rep

It took Betty Friedan and her Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, to light the fire under the feminist movement. “Photograph 51” is the story of Rosalind Franklin, a brilliant scientist working in the early 1950s, before Friedan, before the movement. Her remarkable X-ray crystallography images of cell nuclei made it possible for Watson and Crick to unravel the structure of DNA. She got no credit. She wasn’t among the men who won the Nobel Prize.

Playwright Anna Ziegler makes it very clear that she has written a drama not a documentary. She has created characters based on research but she’s taken liberties with chronology and, of course, their personal relations.

The male scientists are, for the most part, outrageous chauvinists. But Rosalind, or Dr. Franklin as she prefers to be called, is difficult, bristly, and uncooperative. She wants to get on with her work and wants everyone else to get out of her face. You wouldn’t want to share a lab with her, though you would admire her genius. The males who surround her, never quite treat her as a colleague, yet they are capable of stealing her work and using it to advance their own. And when the honors come, when the awards are given, they see no need to recognize her role in unraveling the secret of life.

Kirsten Potter as Rosalind holds herself ramrod straight and lets little emotion break her resolve. No question she’s a driven scientist. There’s little to differentiate the five males who surround her except for Benjamin Harris’ self-important Watson.

Scott Bradley’s open set is intriguing. Rosalind is never alone. Those men who belittle and use her are always there, watching her, assessing her.

When you go to the theatre you want something that’s gripping, or hysterically funny, or amazing. This production, directed by Braden Abraham, is interesting. It should rouse the ire of feminists, but it’s just a reminder of what was, and what is still worth fighting for.

Through March 10 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, (206 443-2210 or www.seattlerep.org).

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