Petersen’s New Play “Chrysalis” Performed at Villanova April 27 and 28

By Caitlin Burns | April 17, 2019

Chrysalis poster

Kathryn Petersen, associate professor of Theater Arts, is having her new play Chrysalis featured in Villanova’s “Staged Reading” series on April 27 and 28.

The play explores the story of 17th century naturalist and illustrator Maria Sybilla Merian and her daughter, Dorothea. After Sibylla Merian embarks on a dangerous expedition in order for her scientific discoveries to be taken seriously in a male-dominated field, she and her daughter must reconsider how well they know each other and themselves.

“I found a book by Kim Todd called Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis while biking on Cape Cod in 2007,” Petersen said. “I bought it and it sat on my shelf for a year.  When I finally read it, I fell in love with [Sibylla Merian]’s story and the way Kim revealed it. I loved the braid of art, science, and faith that drove [Sibylla Merian]’s bold life choices.”

Petersen researched for this play over the past 11 years, retracing Sibylla Merian’s footsteps to Amsterdam, London, and the Republic of Suriname’s Paramaribo, as well as deep into the rainforests.

“I researched [Sibylla Merian]’s life by traveling to places she lived and worked in; by going to archives and museums that had early editions of [Sibylla Merian]’s work; and by reading histories—about pietism, the Dutch Golden Age, Suriname, women in art, science, Peter the Great,” Petersen said. “All of this research informs my play. Along the way, I began to ask questions about [Sibylla Merian] and her relationships with her daughters. Then, Villanova invited me to be a Playwright in Residence for their Graduate Theater Program this semester.  We agreed that I would use the opportunity to finish Chrysalis.”

Previously, Petersen’s play Cinderella received 13 Philadelphia Barrymore Award nominations, including a nomination for Outstanding New Play of 2008. She is one of six playwrights chosen nationally to be a part of the New Play Frontiers Initiative at People’s Light in Malvern, where she is a long-time company member.

Chrysalis will be shown at Vasey Hall on April 27 and 28, at 7 p.m. on each day. The show is free to attend, but pre-registration is required.