By Sandi Durell
Never get in the way of two exceptional and powerful women pursuing their extraordinary careers – Marie Curie – two time Nobel Prize winner in two different scientific fields and Hertha Ayrton, British engineer, mathematician, physicist, inventor and . . . suffragette. Of course, things were a lot different in the early 1900’s for women. It’s especially nice to have a piece of history such as this become the heart of a play.
Through the research and eyes of playwright Lauren Gunderson (writing for Audible through their Emerging Playwrights Fund), the close friendship between these two women during a trying period of Marie Curie’s life in 1912, is brought into focus under the direction of Gaye Taylor Upchurch.
Marie Curie is played by the sensitive and engaging Francesca Faridany (The Curious Incident of the Dog . . .) now a widow and mother of two, who is overwhelmingly and emotionally tortured when her married lover parts ways . . . a little like a romance novel. She can’t eat, sleep, pines and suffers. She can’t even attend the honor ceremony of her second Nobel Prize because of the scandal surrounding her affair and was actually not allowed to show up at the ceremony. After all, she is a tainted woman.
On the opposite end of that spectrum is Herta Ayrton, the brilliant electro-mechanical engineer – played by a strong willed, powerful Kate Mulgrew (“Orange is the New Black”) who, with comic flare, playfulness and pragmatism attempts to and accomplishes her goal as a real friend inviting Marie to come and stay with her in her lovely seaside home in Dover where she can rest and get through this torturous time.
The play is written in a manner that enables each performer to also individually speak to the audience about who she is, her place in history and extraordinary accomplishments and contributions to humanity. They are women who aren’t on the tips of everyone’s tongues but should be. In Hertha’s case, it also includes her commitments as a suffragist and how she speared the movement forward.
The progression finds Marie becoming ill because of a vial of radium she wears around her neck, giving exquisite detailed explanation of its transformation that results in what is called Half . . . life! Tick – Tick – Tick. . .
The ending takes you by surprise. This is too good of a play to miss with two fine actresses beautifully dressed in period style by Sarah Laux, in a lovely setting by Rachel Hauck, accessorized with Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting design and sound design by Darron L. West.
Photos: Joan Marcus
The Half-Life of Marie Curie presented by Audible at Minetta Lane Theater, 18 Minetta Lane, NYC, running time: 85 minutes, thru December 22. www.thehalflifeofmariecurie.com
Audible will release The Half-Life of Marie Curie as an audio play on December 5 to millions of listeners. It is available for preorder at www.audible.com/halflife