BAT Theatre review of Lauren Gunderson’s “The Half-Life of Marie Curie”
By John Van de Ven
Marie Curie is well known for her work in discovering radium and polonium, but what do we know of her life outside of the sciences? The Half-Life of Marie Curie brings one of the most famous names in history back to answer that question, and show the human side of the woman who gave us the world we live in today.
Our story begins in 1911, at Curie’s home in Sceaux, France. Outside, a commotion can be heard as members of the press gather outside her home. An old friend of Curie, Hertha Ayrton pushes and shoves her way through the crowd to get to the front door and seal herself away from the roiling crowd.
Ayrton, a nurse and engineer, has made a name for herself, despite being overshadowed by her friend. She redesigned light bulbs that used to hiss and pop with electrical energy, to be more silent than noisy. Ayrton, a champion of the woman’s suffrage movement, has arrived to help her friend during such a tumultuous time.
As they catch up, they discuss how hypocritical society treats women as compared to men. Curie mentions that the Nobel Peace Prize committee is about to award her for a second time, though they are asking her not to attend the ceremony as she is currently embroiled in controversy for being involved with a married man. Ayrton mentions that no one cares who Einstein is sleeping with, and that it’s not fair for Curie to have to answer to such scrutiny.
As they converse, Ayrton recognizes that Curie could use a vacation from her life and invites Curie to her summer home in England. Curie accepts the invitation and by boat and train she sneaks into England disguised under her maiden name.
Though they spend the time enjoying each other’s company, and commiserate over their woes, Curie’s health still shows minimal improvement. Eventually Ayrton discovers the small vial of radium Curie keeps on her at all times, and a big fight ensues over Curie’s health and her obsession with her glowing discovery. Curie leaves the next day as Ayrton implores her to rid herself of the vial. Will Curie forgive her friend for coming in between her and her work, or will the fallout of this fight be the end of their radiant friendship?
I really enjoyed The Half-Life of Marie Curie. This story is one of love, friendship, success and how society will judge us no matter how great our accomplishments are. It tells the rest of the story about Marie Curie, one of history’s greatest most world-changing figures. Not only did it show me a side of Curie’s life that seems often forgotten, but also introduced me to Hertha Ayrton who was previously unknown to me. This is an inspiring story of two women who empowered themselves to change the world.
Andrew Coopman does a terrific job directing this play, written by Lauren Gunderson. Coopman adds his artistic flair while maintaining historical accuracy in a way that makes sense. Jane Martin Lynch is fantastic as Marie Curie, with a performance that is both sensitive and passionate. Brynne Garman as Hertha Ayrton is every bit Curie’s opposite, she is tough, a bit stubborn, but also caring. I really enjoyed watching them go back and forth like best friends do.
BAT has been hosting these Zoom performances for over a year now, and they have definitely gotten really good at picking interesting stories that work well with the format. Make sure not to pass this one up as there are only two more chances to see The Half-Life of Marie Curie, May 15th at 8 pm and May 16th at 2 pm. For more info on The Half-Life of Marie Curie and a donation link, please visit: https://burienactorstheatre.org/shows/shelter-in-place-season-2021/shelter-in-place-season-3-2021/the-half-life-of-marie-curie-by-lauren-gunderson. For more information on Director Andrew Coopman, you can find his personal website here: https://www.andrewcoopman.com/.
The Half-Life of Marie Curie is BAT Theatre’s third show of its third season of the Shelter-in-Place series of shows. Shelter-in-Place was created to allow BAT Theatre to continue to give people live theater while keeping its audience members, cast, and crew safe during the current pandemic.
As a final note I’d like to add that a year’s worth of social distancing and self-isolation can be very difficult things for all of us to endure. We are social beings, and as such require plenty of healthy interaction with one another. BAT Theatre’s productions don’t just offer its audience a fully produced show, but also provide a community for like-minded fans of theater. Make sure you stick around after the show to have a chance at participating in a Q and A with the cast and production crew.
Because this is a different format than most will be familiar with, I will add a few tips to maximize your viewing pleasure:
• Take advantage of waiting the half hour before the show starts to allow ample time to adjust your settings.
• Make sure to mute your mic and turn off your webcam if you have one.
• Make sure you have chosen galley view in the upper right of your screen.
• Pour your favorite beverage, sit back and relax.
BAT Theatre’s Shelter-in-Place series offers a number of advantages to live theater. Snacks and drinks are only limited to what you have at home, clothing is optional, as long as you avoid using your webcam, and you get pandemic approved live theater!
The rest of the 2021 schedule can be found here: https://battheatre.org/shows/shelter-in-place-season-2021/shelter-in-pl….
BAT Theatre has been performing shows in the Puget Sound area for over 40 years, and is a non-profit 501(c)(3) entity that relies on ticket revenue, donations and volunteer help.