Sunday, July 14, 2024

A publicity image released by the Central Square Theatre for “Beyond Words” (via Facebook)

Dr. Irene Pepperberg is a researcher at Harvard University who, over the protests of male colleagues, teaches an African grey parrot to meaningfully communicate and solve problems at the level of a 5-year-old child. Over the course of a 30-year experiment, Pepperberg changed the way scientists treat their animal test subjects and blazed trails as a female scientist. Now her story is being told at the Central Square Theater.

“Beyond Words” is part of a collaborative science theater program between Central Square Theater and MIT. Catalyst Collaborative@MIT is the nation’s only ongoing partnership between a professional theater company and a world-class r esearch institution, and during each season since 2005, Central Square Theater has produced at least one play bridging art and science. This year, that includes “Beyond Words,” which opens Thursday, as well as “Machine Learning,” which closed last month. (In general, Central Square Theater tends to produce plays that explore science, social justice and the feminine perspective.)

Written by Laura Maria Censabella, “Beyond Words” is inspired by the life and work of Pepperberg but takes some liberties; characters have been altered or invented, and scenes and timelines have been changed for dramatic purposes. A human actor (Jon Vellante) plays Alex, and the focus of the play is not only on him but on Pepperberg (Stephanie Clayman) as a multifaceted scientist and person.

Central Square Theater has had a long relationship with Censabella, producing in 2017 the world premiere of her play “Paradise,” for which she was awarded Best New Play in the small stage category by the Independent Reviewers of New England.

“What I love about Laura’s ‘Beyond Words’ is the sheer audacity in the theatricality of telling a story about a real scientist,” artistic director Lee Mikeska Gardner said.

Director Cassie Chapados and the Central Square Theater team were drawn to “Beyond Words” for Pepperberg’s history at Harvard as well as MIT, where she earned her bachelor’s degree, director of marketing Nicholas Peterson said. In addition to it being a compelling story, the connection she had to Cambridge localizes the play.