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MACH 33: "Planet Between the Stars"

by Hillary Bhaskaran and Gerald Pops

  • Saturday, April 30, 2016, 4pm
  • Beckman Institute Auditorium, 400 S. Wilson Ave.

A staged reading of a play in verse about the eccentric search for Pluto.

In “Planet Between the Stars,” historical fiction combines with astronomical fantasy to bring Pluto’s epic discovery to life. Over the course of a century, five uncommon characters struggle to overleap obstacles both human and scientific. Even in the face of death, nothing stops the search for truth when planets and passions align. 

In the play, we meet Percival Lowell—astronomer, cultural diplomat, poet, and founder of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona—who is certain that his calculations will lead to the discovery of a ninth planet, Planet X. His imminent death in 1916 triggers two bitter quarrels, one with his beautiful wife Constance over the distribution of his fortune, and the second between Constance and Wrexie Leonard, Percival’s beloved assistant (and astronomer in her own right).

We also meet self-taught astronomer and Kansas farmer Clyde Tombaugh, who arrives at the observatory in 1929 and is assigned by its director, Vesto Melvin Slipher, the task of completing Lowell’s search for Planet X. The work is both thrilling and devilishly arduous, causing Clyde to suffer self-doubt and instigating fights between Vesto and Constance. Clyde’s mother, Adella, helps him gain the perspective he’ll need to weather the alternating frustration and joy of discovery and the pull of earthly obligations. 

Post show discussion panelists will include a member of the New Horizons Pluto mission team (TBA); Michael Wong (the Caltech PhD student in Planetary Science who plays Clyde Tombaugh); and Hillary Bhaskaran (playwright).

Actors are Mark Adler (JPL), Elaine Carol (JPL), Erisa Hines (JPL), Andrea-Marie Stark (acting coach), Stephen Wall (JPL), and Michael Wong (Caltech).

Playwright Hillary Bhaskaran is the Caltech Y’s annual-report editor and a freelance writer. She was Caltech Public Relations’ associate editor of Caltech News. In her spare time, she blogs about the arts, tutors, dances, choreographs, and collaborates with her dad, co-writer Gerald Pops. For this great playwriting opportunity, she especially thanks her family and John and Greta Davidson, Arden Thomas, Brian Brophy, and editor Sonia Bhaskaran. 

Playwright Gerald Pops is a Professor of Public Administration at West Virginia University and the author of Ethical Leadership in Turbulent Times: Modeling the Public Career of George C. Marshall. Once upon a time, he tried med school but switched to law and became a judge advocate with the U.S. Air Force and a legislative analyst with the California state legislature. He’s now writing a George Marshall play and discussing ethical leadership from coast to coast. 

Director Joshua Wolf Coleman has recently appeared at A Noise Within, The Boston Court, and the Odyssey Theater, and he is known for his acting roles in the films “Multiple,” “Mr. President,” and “Hidalgo” and such TV shows as “How To Get Away with Murder,” “Castle,” “Scandal,” “Parenthood,” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Josh directed our Mach 33 Earth Day play “Two Degrees” by Tira Palmquist in 2015, in which he also performed the role of Clay. 

Science advisor John Davidson has a Ph.D. in Physics (Maryland 1974) and spent the bulk of his professional career at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. A lover of astronomy and telescope-making since childhood, John enjoyed working on the Pluto Express Team before embarking on post-JPL adventures as a busy grandfather.

Dramaturg Greta Davidson has been a member of the Caltech Playreaders since 1976 and has been in two Theater Arts Caltech productions. After retiring from Development at Caltech, Greta spent many years studying acting and singing and appearing as an extra and a stand-in in movies, student films, and television shows throughout the Los Angeles area. She now is happily performing in the recurring roles of singing grandmother and baby whisperer.