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March 26, 2008
Contact: Jen Humphrey, Natural History Museum, (785) 864-2344.

‘Blue Lias’ tells story of conflict between religion and science in Victorian era

LAWRENCE — A rescheduled one-woman performance at the University of Kansas will bring to life clashes between religion, science, class and gender in 19th century England through the life of fossil collector Mary Anning.

The free play, “Blue Lias, or the Fish Lizard’s Whore,” is scheduled at 7 p.m. Friday, March 28, in Spooner Hall. A February snowstorm that closed campus postponed the original performance.

Claudia Stevens, who wrote and will perform “Blue Lias,” portrays Anning waiting to receive a small honor while she reviews her life and the indignity of her position within the all-male scientific community. Anning faced years of opposition from people who sought to discredit her on the grounds that her fossil findings were incompatible with their faith or because she was a woman.

“Dr. Stevens’ performance gives us the opportunity to examine issues as relevant today as they were in Mary Anning’s time,” said Jordan Yochim, acting director of the Commons, the sponsor for the performance. “Those issues include the role of women in science, the tension between science and religion, and our attitudes toward ‘the expert’ in society.”

Stevens wrote the text for “Blue Lias” in 2005-06 while in residence at Brandeis University. Her academic positions include Williams College and the College of William and Mary, where she has just accepted an appointment as visiting scholar in music. Her recent published solo plays and music encompass topics of bioterrorism; science, gender and religion; and hate crimes and reconciliation. Earlier work draws from literature, history, hidden family past, the Holocaust and issues of identity.

Allen Shearer, composer and artistic co-director of the San Francisco-based Composers Inc., created the score for the performance.

The performance includes technical assistance by KU student Erin Tomkins, Lawrence freshman; Alex Weston, stage manager for the Department of Theatre and Film; and MSM Systems Inc. Tomkins, an art major, is the daughter of Sheila Murphy and Ray Tompkins of Lawrence and is a graduate of Clonlara School in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The Commons is a partnership between KU’s Biodiversity Institute, Spencer Museum of Art and Hall Center for the Humanities. Co-sponsors of “Blue Lias” are the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program and Department of Theatre and Film, with funding provided by the Kenneth Spencer Memorial Lectureship.

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