Marie Sklodowska Curie should be a hero for today’s women. Long before today’s concerns about young women not being educated in STEM subjects or being hired for tech jobs, Madame Curie won the Nobel Prize twice, in physics and chemistry, for her work in radioactivity. She was the first woman awarded a Nobel Prize and the first person to win twice. But she had to fight for every victory.
Genesis Theatrical Productions’ new play, The Radiant, by Shirley Lauro, tells the story of Madame Curie’s scientific discoveries and her tragic personal life. Kaitlyn Taylor directs this tightly written, 80-minute drama starring Debbie Ruzicka in a strong performance as Curie.
The story, set in the early 20th century in Paris, begins as Curie is putting her life together after the death of her husband, Pierre Curie, injured by a horse-drawn cart. The Polish native is living in Paris with her two children where she tries to resume her teaching career and re-establish the research she was doing with Pierre. Eventually she’s appointed to Pierre’s teaching position at the Sorbonne. Her family life is made easier by her niece, Katarina (Chloe Dzielak), who reluctantly gives up her own goals for a musical career in Poland to stay with her aunt in Paris.
Marie’s research is supported by her French lab assistant, Paul (James McGuire), who prefers teaching but agrees to continue his lab work with Marie. Paul is married, but he and Marie develop an illicit relationship, which they carry on in a secret Paris apartment and also on holiday. Their relationship ultimately is discovered and used by her academic opponents against her. One of her enemies is the Scottish scientist, Lord Kelvin (Michael Lomenick), whose “theory of radium” opposes her Nobel research. (Kelvin believes that uranium receives its energy from the sun, rather than the Curie theory that it derives from splitting the atom.)
The Radiant includes a scene of scientific discovery in Madame Curie’s lab. There’s plenty of dialogue about the Curie discoveries to satisfy your interest in science, but it’s nicely balanced with Marie’s personal story.
Genesis stages this on a very minimal set designed by Harrison Ornelas, with lighting by Eric Vigo. Costuming by Shawn Quinlan is equally minimal with characters wearing basically one costume with accessory changes throughout the play.
Lauro’s play was commissioned by the Sloan Science Foundation and was first staged in 2011 in Miami, then in 2013 in New York. Her other plays include A Piece of My Heart, All Through the Night and Clarence Darrow’s Last Trial.
The Radiant by Genesis Theatricals continues at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, through June 11. Tickets are $30 for performances Thursday-Sunday.