When: Nov. 12-22 2015
AN EXPERIMENT WITH AN AIR PUMP
SHEAFER LAB THEATER, DURHAM
THURSDAY, NOV. 12–SUNDAY, NOV. 22
Darkness surrounds those gathered at the table as they watch a primitive hydraulic pump slowly asphyxiate a bird in a small glass chamber. Joseph Wright's dramatic, ambiguous 18th-century oil painting "An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump" was painted a century after similar experiments proved animals need air to survive. We wonder what sort of education is taking place in it, particularly because the onlookers' dress and demeanor suggest that a social occasion, and not a lab session, is underway. The painting inspired Shelagh Stephenson's 1997 drama, which structurally resembles Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. Both flip back and forth between two groups inhabiting the same room two centuries apart. In both eras, the ethics of new medical developments are debated and the status of women remains in doubt. Manbites Dog Theater's associate artistic director, Jules Odendahl-James, directs this Duke Theater Studies production of a work that considers the true price of scientific advancement—and then asks who is made to pay for it.
8 p.m. Thurs.Sat.; 2 p.m. Sun., $5$10, 125 Science Drive, Durham, 919-684-4444, www.theaterstudies.duke.edu. —Byron Woods