Science, History, & Humanity: “The Half-Life of Marie Curie”

Produced by The Nora@Central Square Theater
A Catalyst Collaborative@MIT Production
Written by Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Bryn Boice
Dramaturgy by Julie-Anne Whitney
Voice & text direction by Christine Hamel 
Starring Lee Mikeska Gardner & Debra Wise

November 11 –  December 12, 2021
Central Square Theater
450 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
CST on Facebook

Digital streaming: The digital stream of The Half-Life of Marie Curie is available from November 28 to December 26, 2021. 

Review by Kitty Drexel

Cambridge, Mass. — The Half-Life of Marie Curie presented by The Nora Theatre Company is a platonic love story between two adult scientists separated by distance and their fields. It’s a show to see with your best friend. It is warmly written and bravely acted. 

In the summer of 1912, two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie (Lee Mikeska Gardner) hermited herself with friend and confidant Hertha Aryton (Debra Wise who entered wig first), renowned mechanical engineer. Curie was hounded by pigeonous journalists for daring to love in her widowhood. Aryton opened her seaside home to Curie and her daughters. They spoke of science, nature, womanhood, and many other things.  

It is always good to see weighty, chewy roles for adult women in a play (the mothers and crones in the maiden-mother-crone power trifecta). Actors want the kind of part that is so fancy it has raisins in it, as Dorothy Parker once wrote. This Lauren Gunderson* play has two

If that weren’t fancy enough, Lee Mikeska Gardner & Debra Wise are excellent. Their skills are on full display. They work beautifully together and on their own. The Nora’s summary of the show says they “light up the stage like radioactive isotopes in this two-hander.” It is correct. They do. 

The Half-Life of Marie Curie is a fine play. Gunderson explains complicated science in easily-understood language. She gives her characters pithy one-liners to spice up the dialogue with her usual style. She adds poetry because STEM disciplines without the arts is academia unfulfilled. Gunderson has a formula. It makes this play successful but not special. 

The production has a female-majority crew. That it has is so special. All these people in the same place, working on the same production about women who grasp life by the ovaries and squeeze until joy weeps out. That doesn’t happen for women. Not like it does for men. It is so special that I want to hold this specialness in my hands like a green and navy wild bird and release it to the seven winds. 

Look at this thing that women have made. Look and rejoice because someone (likely a man) no doubt whined “But where are the menz?” and The Nora@CST responded by adding another woman. (I theorize.) It should be an acceptable, regular practice in the year of our Lady Octavia Butler 2021 for a production to have an all-women team. But it isn’t. Yet. 

We are choosing to overlook that this is a play about white feminism. Young Nerds of Color runs at CST from February 3 to March 6, 2022. Ain’t Misbehavin’ – The Fats Waller Musical runs after that.   

Don’t want to enter the theater to see great theatre? The Half-Life of Marie Curie is available to stream from the comfort of your home from November 28 – December 26. Pricing to stream is tiered to fit the budget of nearly every wallet. 

The running time for The Half-Life of Marie Curie is 90 minutes with no intermission.

*Has Central Square Theatre made Gunderson playwright laureate yet? Someone should get on that.

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