Well-behaved Women Rarely Win Nobel Prizes
Although many people know that Marie Curie and her husband Pierre won the Nobel Prize for discovering radioactivity and some new elements, many people don’t know how many serious obstacles she had to overcome to win her first Nobel Prize in 1903. For example, by law as a woman Marie, (née Sklodowska) was forbidden to enroll in the university in Warsaw. All these obstacles as well as a few French ones, were illuminated in Curie Me Away, Matheater’s musical biography of this incredibly intelligent and tenacious woman.
Curie Me Away covered the formative years of Mme Curie’s life from the age of 23 in 1890 to the age of 39, when her husband died in a traffic accident, leaving her a widow with two small children. The play described: the clandestine Polish institutes of higher learning under the cover of “sewing circles”, to thwart the Russian authorities, her departure from Warsaw to Paris, freezing in an attic apartment, as it seems all geniuses residing in Paris do, being sexually harassed as a student, meeting Pierre, getting married, having to use an old tool shed as a laboratory, as well as having to juggle housework with two small children. And of course let’s not forget about traditional French chauvinism towards foreigners.
One of the most intriguing and educational scenes was when Pierre and Marie go step by step through the stages of their experiments which led to the discovering of the previously unknown elements Polonium and Radium as well as radioactivity.
Perhaps the most endearing scene was the courtship scene where they used the periodic table of elements to emotionally tango about compatibility vs. incompatibility. The stars, Ricky Coates and Sadie Bowman, who also co-authored the play deserve special prizes for the intricate chemical metaphors used to express the emotional bonds between the couple and their children. The songs and dialogue were witty and engaging for the audience and it was not all just dull science or didactic women’s rights. The actress Sadie Bowman, made the character of Marie into a driven but well-rounded normal person.
Silhouette puppets played the minor characters behind a scrim onstage, with voices supplied by Ricky Coates, who also played Pierre to perfection. Llysa Holland, director is to be complimented because it was an effective device for the characters. Since some of them were menacing Russian bullies, they seemed even more menacing, being in black and white and two dimensional.
All in all, it was a great inspiring show, not only educational, but also a great lesson to us all, in how to persevere in the face of overwhelming obstacles.
Curie Me Away. 18th and Union. A Touring Production of Matheater. www.Matheather.org. 18th and Union. www.18thandUnion.org