Review: Scientific Method (Rivendell Theatre)

| November 3, 2018

Ashley Neal and Glenn Obrero star as Amy and Danny in Scientific Method, Rivendell Theatre    



Scientific Method

Written by Jenny Connell Davis
Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge (map)
thru Dec 2  |  tix: $28-$38  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Death by a thousand cuts


Ashley Neal and Courtney Williams star as Amy and Makayla in Scientific Method, Rivendell Theatre

Rivendell Theatre Ensemble presents
Scientific Method

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

Sexism is, most often, death by a thousand cuts.

The egregious examples – e.g. every Me Too example you’ve ever heard – happen as well. But sexism in the workplace sometimes doesn’t take the form of a hand on the ass. Instead, it manifests through every “sweetheart,” every denied promotion, every accusation of falsehood when anyone not a man exceeds the lowered expectations set for them by not only the workplace, but society as a whole. Simply put, Scientific Method is the best embodiment of workplace sexism I’ve ever seen onstage. In just 90 short but powerful minutes, playwright Jenny Connell Davis and director Devon de Mayo bring to startling life an environment that’s both more specialized than any of us will ever know and horrifyingly familiar to at least 51 percent of Ashley Neal stars as Amy in Scientific Method, Rivendell Theatreany given audience.

The play opens with esteemed scientist Julian (Josh Odor) swaggering into a lecture hall and waxing poetic about how much he loves working with undergrads. No sooner is the sentence out of his mouth than he jets off for a conference in Hawaii, leaving researcher and PhD student Amy (Ashley Neal) to really teach the course. Amy’s a gifted teacher, but she’s an even more gifted scientist, on the verge of research that will turn the field of cancer treatment on its head. Let that sink in: Amy is literally curing cancer. Except a scientist at another lab “scoops” her – that is, publishes the more groundbreaking research before she does.

A classic case of being beaten to the punch? Not so much.

Inspired by her friend’s work as a woman in the competitive field of cancer research, Davis has crafted a pitch-perfect capsule of the sexism most women experience and don’t talk about. This isn’t to say that blatant discrimination, harassment and assault don’t happen in a professional environment. They do. What’s more insidious, however, is the boys’ club that dominates every field, but especially STEM, where women are still trying to catch up, not in terms of smarts but representation. College freshman Makayla (Courtney Williams) is brilliant, acing out the older students in her biology class, but until Amy brings her into the lab, Julian had never had a black student working for him. While Amy herself had to work her way up to her current position through fellowships and papers, Danny (Glenn Obrero) automatically becomes a colleague, not necessarily because he too is brilliant, but because he and Julian play basketball together. And when Amy stumbles upon a disturbing truth, she’s up against Julian’s golden-boy status – even with the intervention of Marie (Carmen Roman), Julian’s tough-as-nails colleague and the only female senior scientist in the department.

Carmen Roman and Josh Odor star as Marie and Julian in Scientific Method, Rivendell TheatreCourtney Williams stars as Makayla in Scientific Method, Rivendell TheatreAshley Neal and Glenn Obrero star as Amy and Danny in Scientific Method at Rivendell Theatre

Lauren Nichols’ set design, coupled with Tony Churchill’s gorgeous projections of cells in motion, beautifully conjure a cool, clean space where ground is broken every day – and a place of comfort for those like Amy and Makayla, who have a personal stake in the research they are conducting. Science labs are hothouse environments, where researchers and techs often pull all-nighters, crashing on cots and mainlining Diet Coke. De Mayo’s thoughtful staging draws the nuance from every character, from Amy’s comfort in being alone with her microscope to Danny’s outgoing nature and confidence, kidding around with Julian. All the lab’s a stage, and both design and direction set up the environment so well, it’s even more devastating when Amy’s comfort is ripped away from her, little by little.

Scientific Method should be required viewing for any cis man working with anyone who’s, well, not. Rivendell’s world premiere isn’t a comfortable experience for anyone, but it’s essential for all. When the audience first meets Makayla, she’s contemplating dropping her biology class, claiming to Amy that she doesn’t understand the material, especially compared with the more privileged male students in her cohort. With Amy’s encouragement, Makayla realizes she does, in fact, comprehend everything she’s been taught thus far. A young woman who thinks she’s missing the point discovers the opposite is true. The sense of recognition I felt was like a gut punch, and I’m willing to bet my fellow female spectators felt the same.

Rating: ★★★★

Scientific Method continues through December 2nd at Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge (map), with performances Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays 4pm & 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $38 (students, seniors, military, veterans: $28), and are available by phone (773-334-7728) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 90 minutes without intermission)

Courtney Williams and Ashley Neal star as Makayla and Amy in Scientific Method,  Rivendell Theatre

Photos by Michael Brosilow 




Ashley Neal (Amy), Glenn Obrero (Danny), Josh Odor (Julian), Courtney Williams (Makayla), Carmen Roman (Marie)

behind the scenes

Devon de Mayo (director), Lauren Nichols (scenic design), Izumi Inaba (costume design), Heather Sparling (lighting design), Shain Longbehn (original music, sound design), Jonathan Berg-Ein (properties design), Tony Churchill (projections design), Jennifer Thusing (stage manager), Skyler Gray (dramaturg), Catherine Allen (production manager), Robert Groth (technical director), Arianna Soloway (asst. director), Brent Ervin-Eickhoff (asst. projection design), Izzy French (asst. stage manager), Tara Mallen, Jackie Banks-Mahlum (co-producers), Michael Brosilow (photos)


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Drama, Lauren Emily Whalen, New Work, Rivendell Theatre, World Premier

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