Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Radiant by Shirley Lauro


By Joe Straw

Going to this theatre for a 2:00 pm matinee presented challenges, mostly due to the traffic in that part of town.  Flustered because of time, I noticed parking spaces all around the building, which are designated to the businesses there. Limited parking spaces were available at an hourly charge. Slip in, slip out, pay, and slip back in with only minutes to spare.  

Time got the better of me on this date.

And, also, this place, this building, is a thriving, bustling business theatrical venue, and lordy on Sunday, parking just ain’t right.

The saving grace was Jane Edwina Seymour, the director, who greeted us at the door.  Her voice was so pleasant, so relaxing and inviting, that it was a pleasure to come into this space.  

Resource Performance Workshops and stories about human present The Radiant by Shirley Lauro and directed by Jane Edwina Seymour through November 19th, 2017 at The Other Space at The Actors Company.

The Radiant is an historical drama that makes one wants to go home and read about the characters portrayed in this dramatic interpretation. I thought I knew a lot about these historical figures, but I really didn’t, so a little more reading was in order.

The first thing you notice when entering the theatre is the impeccably authentic set, books, desks, furnishing that takes you back to 1906 Paris France.  The set was wonderfully designed and created by Karen Ipock.   

Secondly, the authentic costumes by Taylor Sandling were equally marvelous and put a significant stamp on this production.

Marie Curie (Nina Sallinen), pale and sullen, saunters into the office of the Chief Paymaster of the Sorbonne (John Moschitta, Jr.) looking for money. The money she believes is due to her in the aftermath of her husband’s, Pierre Curie, death – his skull crushed by a horse and its carriage.   

“I am Madame Curie.  I believe we had an appointment, monsieur?”- Marie

“Qui?” - Paymaster

Displaced by the element of death, Marie stands, a markedly frail woman next to the paymaster, a lecherous man, with despairing reflections.  He only wants what is best for her, and that is he. 

But all the manly devices that he has used in his past imagined fortuitous life have come to naught.

The Paymaster, knew her husband, and he knows Marie.  He hasn’t forgotten that she won the Nobel Prize in Physics. But he wants her to grovel for the money and that is something Marie will never do.

The paymaster tells Marie that she will get the pension money until she dies, or remarries, or through lingering illnesses, but if she were to get a job “All benefits cease!” Marie still not satisfied, mostly with the amount, rips up the check and storms off. 

And the paymaster gets, nothing.  

Paul Langevin (Conrad Cecil) is packing Pierre Curie’s things in his office when Marie walks in. It’s a matter of him putting Pierre in a box and shuffling Marie out of the room with his belongings. 

You – you’re looking well, Madame. Fashionably thin.” – Paul

It is a noticeably nicer approach than the paymaster’s.  There is a movement between the two - shuffling of books and polite conversation -  and one that leads to a pleasant intercourse. Paul tells her that he dropped out of the Ph.D. program and is now teaching lower school to support his wife, three children, and mother-in-law.

But Marie, possibly smitten, and decidedly French in her views, convinces Paul that she can take over the office for now with the hopes the University will offer her a position.  

Paul informs her the obvious  “the closest colleague inherits his Chair” which would be Marie and sadly, with pouting lips, he says that if she leaves no one will teach Radioactivity.

Later Marie’s niece, Katarina (Andrea Flower), is in Marie’s living room working on the samovar and arranging tea and cakes for Madame Curie to nibble on. 

Paul interrupts her, carrying roses for Marie.  (A slightly odd gift that goes unnoticed.)  Katarina is a fury of information, saying she is taking care of Madame Curie, her kids, and the household to get Madame past the grieving period, but she needs to go to the park, and wants to visit her beau in Poland. They are smitten and both are planning to study music this August in Poland. 

But now Marie has other plans for her, having been appointed by the university.  She wants Katarina to stay on until January or February much to Katarina’s disappointment.

Marie has also asked Paul to stay on as her assistant.  She confides to Paul that she is terrified to lecture.  But, with his support, she manages to fill the void and give a terrific lecture.

And to celebrate the moment, she visits Pierre Curie’s grave-site and confesses that she really wants to run away to the country with the girls and make gooseberry jam. 

“Come to Pierre’s office with me?  Science department’s deserted – they just put your name on the door.” – Paul  

Needing not much convincing, Marie walks into her office.

Shirley Lauro’s play is wonderfully written and well crafted.  But make no mistake; this play does not dwell too much on academia and that life but rather it is more of a play about relationships.  Marie interacts with her niece, her lover, the paymaster, and the colleagues who have disagreements with her. And to that end, the relationships must be spot on and have nuance, which one believes the play has.  Lauro leaves it ambiguous enough for the actors to find those moments and soar.     

There is a lot to enjoy from Jane Edwina Seymour’s direction.  The action moves fluidity, and the characters are complete. But this production needs a boost in two ways - deeper characters and a stronger through line. Also, the actor’s lines should be an afterthought; on this date, there were some problems with actors grasping for the words.  (Chalk it up to a Sunday matinee.)

First about the stronger through line—simply put, this is a story about Marie Currie overcoming obstacles to win her second Nobel Prize in chemistry. Although she is the only woman to win prizes in two different categories, she still must fight with the school and her colleagues as well as negotiate life with her niece and her lover who tug on her as she moves to those goals.   
The depth of character I will address below as I discuss the actors.

One more thing, the characters san accents, or slight accents, may have been a conscience choice by the director.  But, in this type of venue, it’s really about upping your game and stretching your chops.

Nina Sallinen is Marie Curie and through her portrayal we get the pale and sickly part but what is missing is the driving force that propels her to her final destination.  Where one wants to embrace her fortitudinous style, we have little of that. Also missing are the moments of peak intelligential thought or ideas that have her head and shoulders above the rest of the characters. It is her style of thought, the manner in which the character negotiates her way to her want.  While Marie Curie is Polish (Maria Salomea Sklodowska), there was little trace of Polish or French accents. Also, there is no sense of elation when Marie wins her second Nobel Prize. The scene at the grave has two things going for it.  The first is a recognized emotional outpouring for her deceased husband, giving her a perceived grander backstory, and a moment in which the character Paul can step in and take Pierre Curie's place, two moments that must happen if we are to continue. Certainly there’s something here to think about and add to an already fine performance.

Conrad Cecil is impressive as Paul Langevin. Cecil manages to fill the marvelous costume. He is polite, articulate, and manages to have a significant relationship in the process. But he has a wife and children and that weight must be carried on his shoulders – one additional backstory.  Maybe not thinking about it is the French way.  But, his relationship is a cause of concern in the play when it is made public. There is also the issue of having a relationship with a person of a different religion, which the French looked down upon at that time. Also, one doesn’t recall Cecil employing a French accent for Langevin who is decidedly French. Still, nick picking aside Cecil is marvelous on stage and presents a splendid figure.

John Moschitta, Jr. plays a number of characters. An interesting note in one scene, he exits the imaginary vomitorium as Lord Kelvin, and returns in just seconds as a completely different character, different costume, through another imaginary vomitorium.  Noted as “America’s Favorite Fast Talker,” the change was down right remarkable.  And the only thing that was similar in character were the beads of sweat coming from his brow.  (Bring something to wipe the brow.) The Paymaster was not subtle in what he wanted, wielding all his perceived power, he did not need to overtly fondle Marie but rather pull her in a way to accomplish his goals.  Also, as the character Lord Kelvin was posturing which is not a terrible thing just overtly obvious.  Moschitta requires a stronger objective for each of these characters, one that gives him a clearer physical life, a purpose, and one that recognizes the conflict in each scene, for each character.

Andrea Flowers shines as Katarina.  She has a number of marvelous moments and does little things in excellent fashion that provides the finishing touches to her character. That said, more could be made of her beau.  Also, her relationship with Paul, could be taken a little farther, the way she presents herself to the visitor, the manner of her dress, her position being explicitly inquisitive in the process.  All things she can add to an already outstanding performance.  

Other members of the crew I have not mentioned are as follows:

Jeanne Marie Valleroy – Stage Manager
Racquel Lehrman – Theatre Planners – Consulting Producer
Philip Sokoloff – Publicity
Ed Krieger – Production Photography
Kristine Ballard – Graphic Design

Run! Run!  And take someone who loves historical drama.
RESERVATIONS: (323) 960-7712.

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