Humans convey a wide range of emotions through facial expressions. But emotions aren't inherently human.
Anyone with a pet dog or cat knows animals also use facial expressions to communicate with us and each other. Why have these emotions and facial expressions been conserved throughout evolution?
That is what famed Italian actress Isabella Rossellini explores in her new witty and provocative one-woman show, Darwin's Smile, coming to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's (CSHL's) Grace Auditorium for a two-day run, Saturday and Sunday, March 4-5, 2023.
Written and performed by Rossellini, the play takes inspiration from The Expression of Emotions on Man and Animals by Charles Darwin.
Darwin's Smile brings together theater and science to explore empathy—a necessity for the art of acting and the study of animal behavior.
"It seemed that these two interests of mine were both distinct and separate: one satisfied my heart, while the other satisfied my brain," Rossellini says. With comically colorful costumes and props, she shows how acting can help us understand animals and vice versa.
"I loved it," says Helen Hou, assistant professor and neuroscientist at CSHL. Hou attended the show's Long Island premiere on August 12, 2022. "That love of animals, love of science, and her bold capturing of it is so fun and inspiring."
Hou studies natural behavior, such as facial expressions, and the brain circuits that control them. "The face is really a window into our mind," she says.
"We can tell a lot about a person, what they're trying to communicate, and how they're doing from their facial expressions. As Darwin illustrated, many of our facial expressions are shared among animals."
Like Hou's research, Rossellini's acting explores facial expressions to make revelations about the human condition. Her offbeat and playful new show transforms complex science into entertaining lessons that leave audiences more attuned to the nuance of nonverbal communication.
For more information, visit www.cshl.edu