Science, Activism, Bravery on Display in New Musical, “Rachel,” at Guild Hall
By Michelle Trauring
First, they fell in love with Rachel Carson, the scientist — her brilliance, her activism and her bravery to stand up for what was right.
Then, they fell in love with Rachel Carson, the woman — her fire, her passion, the secret romance she had with her neighbor, Dorothy, and the way she expressed herself through her nature writing.
They knew they had to tell her story.
The result is “Rachel,” a musical from brother-and-sister duo Jessie and Jared Field under the direction of Ari Laura Kreith, who helped shape the newest iteration that will stage on Monday at Guild Hall in East Hampton.
The creative team calls it the “less men, more science” version, with only women seen on stage and male voiceovers, effectively allowing more space for Carson’s journey to come to the fore as a female story. It marks a dramatic departure from the musical’s debut in 2015, Kreith explained — not only structurally, but how it exists within the world at large.
“It’s crazy to look back on how different the country felt at that time — how different it felt to be doing a play about a gay woman in science at that time, how different it felt to be talking about environmental activism,” she said. “It felt like the play was very much a part of the conversation that we were all having at that moment, whereas now, two years later, this play is part of the resistance.”
Born in 1907, marine biologist and writer Rachel Carson was ahead of her time. While she struggled to find her place both socially and professionally, she is largely credited with launching the modern environmental movement with her book “Silent Spring,” which alerted many to the dangers of DDT and other pesticides.
“Here was someone who thought of herself as just a human being doing the things that interested her. She wanted to be a scientist because she loved science,” Kreith said. “By doing those things, she discovered truths that people were not aware of, or speaking about. She became — unwillingly, in some ways — responsible for bringing attention to those things.
“She knew there was going to be a cost to her, and that she did it anyway. It was sort of her last act.”
Publishing “Silent Spring” was a race against time, Kreith explained. Carson knew she had cancer, but she didn’t realize she was terminally ill.
“It was an era where they didn’t tell the women, they would only tell the husband. So because she was unmarried, although she had surgery, they never told her that it wasn’t gone,” Kreith said. “It was her final moments, and of all the many things one might choose to do in their last moments on Earth, she chose to take a stand for the earth she cared about, and for future generations.”
Carson hid her illness, fearful that if her opponents knew she would soon be silent, they could have muffled her, or found a way to wait it out.
By the time she testified against the Senate in June 1963, her pelvis was so riddled with cancer that she could not sit. And no one knew.
She would die 10 months later.
“The pain that she must have been enduring in order to fight in those last days, it’s unfathomable, and she did. She did what she needed to do,” Kreith said. “And I think we’re in a time where there are a lot of things that we need to inconvenience ourselves for. There are a lot of hard choices we need to make about standing up, and she is a reminder of the fact that it’s not always going to be easy, and you do it anyway.”
“Rachel: A new musical about Rachel Carson” will stage on Monday, January 8, at 7:30 p.m. at Guild Hall, located at 158 Main Street in East Hampton, as part of the JDT Lab series. Admission is free. For more information, please call (631) 324-0806 or visit guildhall.org.