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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie

How can you not step into the mystery? The universe is a fascinating place, isn't it? — Marie
John de Lancie and Anna Gunn
Marie Curie and her husband Pierre are known for their discovery of radium but Alan Alda, particularly in the second act of his clever new play, has written a love story. Pierre (John de Lancie) has been killed in a street accident by then, perhaps a result of absent-mindedness, and Marie (Anna Gunn) has fallen in love with a good friend and a married man, Paul Langevin(Dan Donohue), who has long adored her.

Apparently after Pierre's death, Marie found it difficult to press on with her research. The scandal surrounding the Langevin affair nearly eclipsed her.

Alda has a keen sense of character and, with the help of an excellent cast, brings the story vividly to life. According to Alda and as interpreted by Gunn, Marie is a strong fierce woman with no concern for propriety. She waits four hours for her husband's body to be brought home and when it is, she tends it herself.

Jeanne Langevin is played by Sarah Zimmerman as a waspish termagant, estranged from her husband but bitterly refusing to divorce him. She is actually physically abusive to Paul and holds the stage with a powerful force. Terbougie (Leonard Kelly-Young) is a bigoted newspaperman who avidly follows Mme. Curie but disdains her as a mere woman.

Marie is a passionate woman, as smitten by Langevin as he is with her. Despite a long affair and his contempt for his wife, he can't bring himself to leave his children. She loves radium fiercely "for the beauty of pure science."

Daniel Sullivan directs with all the passion of the title character. As Pierre, John de Lancie is attractive, easy-going and a perfect match for Marie. He is the essence of Pierre Curie.

The set design by Thomas Lynch is minimalist, in accordance with the stage directions in the script. Daniel Ionazzi's lighting design is also subdued. There are projections of news clippings of the Curies and other relevancies. The actors move the props on and off, with the paring of the visual elements down to the bone apparently designed to highlight the story and the importance of the discovery of radium.

While Marie Curie was the first person to be honored with two Nobel Prizes and the 1943 bio pic, Madame Cure starring Greer Garson and Waler Pidgeon, may still show up occasonally on the Turner Movie Network, to most people today she's only vaguely famous so she's due for a revival. Whether Alan Alda's play fills the bill, remans to be seen. Hissecond act could use a trim and we're a long way from radium. But Alda is an astute writer, careful to keep the script from becoming too technical, and deeply committed to his people so that this is a play likely to have a future beyond this production.

Title: Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie
Playwright: Alan Alda
Director: Daniel Sullivan
Cast: Marie Curie (Anna Gunn), Paul Langevin (Dan Donohue), Pierre Curie (John de Lancie), Emile Borel (Hugo Armstrong), Marguerite Borel (Natacha Roi), Jeanne Langevin (Sarah Zimmerman), Tornebladh/Terbougie (Leonard Kelly-Young).
Scenic Designer: Thomas Lynch
Costume Designer: Rita Ryack
Lighting Designer: Daniel Ionazzi
Sound Designer: Jon Gottlieb
Projection Designer: John Boesche
When: Nov. 9-Dec. 11, 2011
Where: The Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles. Reservations: (310) 208-5454.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on Nov. 10.
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