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Defying Convention 

Alan Alda of "M*A*S*H" fame pens a play about Marie Curie

Pierre Curie (Rob Flanagan, left) is visibly annoyed with a clueless reporter (John Giambalvo) as his wife (Annie Tappouni, one of two actors to portray Marie Curie) looks on. - ELIZABETH WARNIMONT
  • Elizabeth Warnimont
  • Pierre Curie (Rob Flanagan, left) is visibly annoyed with a clueless reporter (John Giambalvo) as his wife (Annie Tappouni, one of two actors to portray Marie Curie) looks on.

Director Marla Manning describes Alan Alda's "Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie," as a rewarding and unconventional project in more ways than one. The tribute to Nobel physicist Madame Marie Curie opens at the Cascades Theatre Friday.

Most people associate the playwright with his iconic portrayal of Hawkeye, the wisecracking surgeon on the TV series M*A*S*H – but Alda's also known for his enthusiasm for science. In fact, he conducts workshops on the topic to physicians and scientists through the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science in New York. "Radiance" is a sensitive expression of that passion, and a personal portrait of the groundbreaking physicist.

According to Manning, Alda quipped that he developed a "crush" on Marie Curie while researching her life for the play.

Curie shared the Nobel Prize in physics with her husband, physicist Pierre Curie, in 1903, eventually winning a second Nobel of her own, in chemistry, in 1911. She was also a staunch feminist—determined in her work, refusing to let the misogynistic attitudes, conventions and social mores of the times get in her way.

"It's about these people who defied convention," Manning says of the play. "Marie's husband defied convention because he told them (the Nobel committee) he wouldn't accept the prize unless she was a part of it, because she was instrumental in the discovery."

Curie's friends, Manning says, also defied social dictates by defending her during the scandal. "There was so much of people defying convention. They're fascinating people," she says of the characters in the play.

The structure of the play is unconventional too, in a number of ways. The actors do all of the scene changes. In fact, everyone remains onstage throughout the performance, even though only one actor at a time may actually be performing. "I was concerned about the challenges of the play, (in part) because so much of it is exposition. I think (Alda) might have written it almost as a glorified acting exercise, because the actors come in, play their scene and sit back down."

When asked what the director hopes audiences will take away from the performance, Manning emphasizes it's more about the woman than it is about Curie's scientific accomplishments.

"I'm not as concerned about them understanding what Radium is," she says, "but for them to understand what Marie Curie did with her life, how difficult it was for her to do what she did and she still did it. It is called, 'Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie.'"



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