FRINGE 2018 REVIEW: 'Curie Me Away!'

A musical that tells the “radical” life story of the physicist who overcame sexism in the fields of science and education

click to enlarge "Curie Me Away!" - Photo: Jeff Burkle
Photo: Jeff Burkle
"Curie Me Away!"

The physicist Marie Curie (1867-1934) might not be the first person you’d imagine as the subject for a musical. But the creative minds behind Matheatre, a Minneapolis-based theater company specializing in STEM-based programming, use that medium to tell the “radical” life story of the physicist who overcame sexism in the fields of science and education as she conducted pioneering research with radioactive materials. Curie Me Away! takes a tad more than an hour at Gabriel’s Corner (Sycamore at Liberty streets in Over-the-Rhine).

Performers Sadie Bowman and Ricky Coates use music (she’s also the composer with some borrowing from Frederic Chopin), miming and shadow puppets, used by Coates principally to impersonate the two-dimensional men who constantly dismiss Marie’s intelligence and her passion for science. The show also employs recorded musical accompaniment for numbers that range from Rap to vaudeville. They’re cleverly and enthusiastically delivered, although Bowman and Coates are amateur singers. But their good-natured performances keep the show very entertaining.

Curie Me Away! is shot through with scientific metaphors to convey its message. Bowman’s Marie Sklodowska, raised in Poland where education of women was a crime, escapes to Paris. She wanted to study magnetism, so “attraction” is a theme that disdainful male teachers and scientists joke about. As a woman interested in science, she is still a novelty. Once she meets Pierre Curie — Coates comes out from behind the shadow projection screen to play her scientific partner and eventually her husband — they sing about forming a “chemical family.” She refers to their two daughters as “hydrogen,” because they bond to her as two hydrogen atoms cling to oxygen to create water.

The Curies made startling discoveries about radioactivity, often naively experimenting with materials that today we know to be exceedingly dangerous. Marie Curie eventually died from aplastic anemia, the result of extensive exposure to radiation. But along the way she became a noteworthy scientist in her own right, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize (she actually won two) and the first woman to be elevated to a professorship at the Sorbonne. She spent much of her career pushing uphill against sexual discrimination and disbelief that a woman could be a scientist, always short of money, time and a real laboratory. Through sheer tenacity, she eventually achieved all of those, and Curie Me Away! conveys her story in an entertaining performance.

Bowman and Coates are inventive performers, and on opening night a glitch with their soundtrack was handled with good humor — although Bowman, remaining in character as Marie, clenched her teeth in the steamy theater basement performance space and ad libbed, “Sure, take your time … I’m wearing a corset!” The audience was with her all the way, in part because of her history with Know and the Fringe: She performed in Calculus: The Musical in the 2007 Fringe, a production that Know ultimately adopted and toured regionally. She also worked at Know and has been a regular Fringe performer, appearing with Coates in 2016 in Tesla Ex Machina, about Nikola Tesla, another adventurous scientist.

The Cincinnati Fringe Festival runs through June 10. Find showtimes, tickets and more info here.

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