It should come as a surprise to no one that women in science face discrimination; from the prevalence of the well-known riddle about a father and son in a car accident to the frequently cited study published in January 2018 revealing frightening gender bias in scientific field statistics, this issue has, at the very least, been recognized in American culture.
But how do we fix it?
This complicated question is the starting point for Rivendell Theatre Ensemble’s world premiere The Scientific Method. Through the engaging story of an intelligent young woman’s experience working in a male-dominated lab, playwright Jenny Connell Davis exposes just how deeply entrenched these systems of discrimination are. While somewhat predictable, the script successfully challenges audiences to consider the complexity of engendering sustainable change. Coupled with a talented cast and well-designed set, Rivendell once again creates the perfect formula for a powerful theatrical experience.
Our play’s protagonist, Amy (Ashley Neal), is a dedicated lab student hell-bent on completing her doctoral thesis after six years at an elite cancer institute. Her long hours balancing intense research, grading papers, and teaching undergraduates is about to pay off when her mentor Julian (Josh Odor) delivers devastating news: Amy’s been scooped, her breakthrough published by another scientist. Faced with starting over, Amy begins analyzing what led her to this point and uncovers troubling hierarchies and procedures within the lab she has long considered home.
Neal’s Amy is a bit stiff, but she certainly manages to avoid over-exaggerating Amy’s eccentricities; she humanizes a character that could so easily be transformed into an archetype. As her self-assured, charismatic fellow lab worker, Glenn Obrero’s Manish provides the perfect counterbalance, and Courtney William offers a nuanced and beautiful performance as a undergraduate student under Amy’s tutelage, Makayla.
Of these three characters, though, Makayla is the only one who ever surprised me (in a brilliant moment in which she reminds Amy that racial issues are just as prevalent as gender ones). It was clear from Amy and Manish’s initial meeting exactly how their relationship would play out, and Julian’s true motivations were too readily apparent early on in the play.
Yet, even if the script could be more effective with further development, the play as a whole is still incredibly successful, with layers of meaning and complexity; how, after all, do we take action when no action quite seems right?
Review by Emily Schmidt
The Scientific Method continues at Rivendell Ensemble Theatre through Dec 2. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.
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