I Am That Which Began: “The Half-Life of Marie Curie” electrifies at Falcon

This play is funny, teaches a lot of facts about both women and their accomplishments but also some history and cool scientific facts.

Review by Sherri Ogden Wellington

When I walk into the Falcon Theatre, my shoulders relax and life feels good.   Cincinnati has its fair share of nice theaters but the Falcon is one of my favorites.  When you get to the door, someone opens it with a smile and you are personally welcomed.  It is so intimate that you feel like you belong and are a part of it.

The Half-Life of Marie Curie is astounding.  The playwright, Lauren Gunderson, is an extremely well-known and prolific writer.  Director Ted J. Weil coordinates the play so well that one is spellbound throughout the entirety of it. The play tells of the true story of Marie Curie’s, played by Tara Williams,  relationship with Hertha Ayrton, played by Tracy M. Schoster.  Marie Curie was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize (1903 in Physics) but the only woman who received a second Nobel Prize in a different field (1911 in Chemistry).  Hertha was an electromechanical engineer and suffragette. Both women were brilliant, widows, mothers of girl(s) and scientists who had passion to find the “proof”.  

This play is a testament to women.  Marie Curie, a Polish immigrant to France, has an affair with another scientist (who is married) six years after her own husband has died.  She is scandalized by the press to the point where she questions her self worth and is nearly suicidal.  Her English friend, Hertha Ayrton, goes to France to besiege her to spend the summer in England at her seaside cottage.  

Marie and her daughters visit Hertha.  The play focuses on this summer where Marie and Hertha share their pain, their loves, and their passions. Their relationship is powerful and meaningful.  So many fabulous insights are made by both women such as “Love wounds us,” “Sometimes love is protest” and “We love our lovers and we adore our children, but our life’s passion is proof.” However, I felt that the most profound quote is where Hertha references Algernon Charles Swinburne, an English poet, as why she changed her name from Phoebe Sarah Marks.  The poem is from the perspective of a woman.  The first lines:

“I am that which began; Out of me the years roll;

Out of me God and man; I am equal and whole;

God changes, and man, and the form of them bodily; I am the soul.”

So you know the basics of the play, why should you see it at Falcon?  Besides the incredibly intense and emotional acting by Tracy M. Schoster and Tara Williams, the production team make the play one that you will fondly remember.  Amy Enzweiler’s Lighting and Sound (she is also Stage Manager) bring the play alive with lighting that evokes the mood of either Marie or Hertha by using color to reflect their emotions.  The hissing of electricity, before Hertha found a methodology to erase the sound, plays throughout the space between different sets.  The costumes by Beth Joos, and set design team (Clint Ibele, Ted J Weil, Tracy M. Schoster, Tara Williams and Tracy M. Schoster) are beautifully simple but appear authentic to the time period. Even though Hertha wore pants throughout the play, which is highly unlikely at the time, it does suit her and her feminist beliefs.   

Tara Williams as Marie Curie
Tara Williams as Marie Curie. Photo by Kristy Rucker

Take your significant other to this play and if you don’t have one, go alone.  This play is funny, teaches a lot of facts about both women and their accomplishments but also some history and cool scientific  facts.  The Half-Life of Marie Curie plays at the Falcon Theatre from September 23rd to October 8th. 

Oh by the way, half- life means, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “the time required for half of the atoms of a radioactive substance to become disintegrated”.  Marie wore a vile of radium around her neck which eventually killed her. She died of radiation-induced anemia.

Get your tickets at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/profile/762706 .

Sherri Ogden Wellington has a BS and M.Ed. and had a career in education. She fell in love with the theater when given a flower by an actor during the New York performance of Hair.

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