This West Coast premiere of Anna Ziegler's powerful yet subtle play Photograph 51 concerns Rosalind Franklin, the scientist who was instrumental in the discovery of the structure of DNA. Set against Travis Gale Lewis' cleverly accretive set and illuminated by Kathi O'Donohue's complex and variegated lighting, the play takes us into a seminal period in biophysics. No sooner are we introduced to Rosalind (Aria Alpert), her colleague Dr. Wilkins (Daniel Billet), and her graduate assistant, Maurice Gosling (Graham Norris), than Rosalind declares in no uncertain terms, "Dr. Wilkins, I don't do jokes. I do science." Her confidence and professionalism lead to an uncomfortable friction with Wilkins and the rest of the chauvinistic male scientific establishment, including Watson (Ian Gould) and Crick (Kerby Joe Grubb), who are simultaneously in search of the genetic blueprint. While Rosalind remains the consummate professional, even cold at times, she does reveal slivers of her inner life through correspondence with American scientist Don Casper (Ross Hellwig). As each side gets closer to the genetic blueprint, one of Rosalind's photographs ends up becoming crucial to unlocking the mystery. Director Simon Levy efficiently orchestrates the manipulation of time and space, turning vast leaps into imperceptible segues, and inspiring powerful performances from his actors. The entire cast sparkles behind Alpert, whose portrayal of Rosalind's ruthless efficiency, biting wit and deep pain is a tour de force that brings to mind Meryl Streep's take on Anna Wintour. This tribute to a woman who helped to crack the Pyrex ceiling reminds us of the need to reexamine "his"tory and should not be missed. The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through May 3. (323) 663-1525.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: March 21. Continues through May 31, 2009