Tony Award winner Daniel Sullivan (Proof, Rabbit Hole) directs the play, which runs to Dec. 10 at Geffen's Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater in Los Angeles.
Gunn previously appeared at the Geffen Playhouse in the world premiere of Donald Margulies' Time Stands Still and is a star of AMC's "Breaking Bad." Her Radiance castmates include Natacha Roi (a veteran of Magic Theatre and South Coast Rep), John de Lancie ("Q" on "Star Trek" and a "Days of Our Lives" veteran), Ovation Award winner Hugo Armstrong, Don Donohue (an Oregon Shakespeare vet), Leonard Kelly-Young (a Santa Barbara Independent Theatre Award winner) and Sarah Zimmerman (Broadway's The Rivals and The Full Monty).
According to Geffen notes, "Timed perfectly with the 100th anniversary of Madame Curie's second Nobel Prize as well as the first International Year of Chemistry, Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie delves into the life and romance of one of the most brilliant female scientists in history. Famous for her groundbreaking research in radioactivity, Curie was the only person ever to win two Nobel Prizes in multiple sciences, but not without a struggle. For all the answers that come to her in the lab, Curie's life is peppered with questions of how to realize the passion she has for both knowledge and love. Celebrated but then rejected by the popular press as both a woman and scientist, Curie is left to define her place in society — and history — on her own terms."
"I do have a strong interest in science and I'm always reading about it," Alda told Playbill.com. "I help put on the World Science Festival every year in New York, and four years ago, I think, I thought it would be a good idea…to do a reading of Marie Curie's letters, which would be easy for actors to rehearse. They can rehearse it and perform it all in the same day, and if you put letters together right, you can get an actual play out of it. I started to do a little bit more research on it, and I found that the letters are all in the library in Paris — the National Library — but they're still radioactive. You have to sign a release before you read them recognizing that you could become ill after touching the letters, so I switched to Einstein, [and] I did, indeed, make [a show of] Einstein's letters."
Alda said he was always pulled toward Curie. "In the course of researching, I realized that her story is so powerful — her professional and her personal story — especially between the two Nobel Prizes in 1903 and 1911. I really wanted to write a whole play about it and deal with that part of her life, which is extremely dramatic and important, not only as a look into the science of the time because she helped revolutionize physics, but also because of the growth that she had to go through as a person in that period. The things that she had to overcome were monumental just on a personal level." Alda said he didn't want to write a hagiography. He does not put Curie on a pedestal.
"Her story is so human — and I don't pull back from her flaws or her human traits — she's not an ideal," Alda said. "She's not simply an iconic scientist. She's a human like the rest of us, and actually because of that, that makes her more of a hero to me. She's my personal hero because she had so many obstacles — some of them brought about by mistakes and judgments on her part, but mistakes that she almost couldn't avoid because she was so vulnerable. After her husband died, she was very depressed — came close to suicidal — and needed to be brought out of that and the love of this other scientist, Paul Langevin, was, I think, in a way her salvation. The only problem was that he was married to a woman who was very erratic and threatened Marie's life, so it gets very rich with human trauma."
A Curie-inspired character is also part of the Off-Broadway musical The Blue Flower, now playing at Second Stage.
Playwright Alda, best known for playing Hawkeye on TV's "M*A*S*H," and for his screenplays and direction of feature films, said in a statement, "Marie Curie has been alive in my head for the last four years while I've been writing this play, and to see these brilliant actors make Marie and her world burst into life on the stage is staggering for me. It was a deeply emotional and very intelligent world they inhabited and this company, under Dan Sullivan's direction, brings a dream of mine into reality. I love it."
The creative team includes set designer Tom Lynch, costume designer Rita Ryack, lighting designer Daniel Ionazzi, sound designer Jon Gottlieb and production stage manager Young Ji.
Alda, whose screenplays include "The Four Seasons" and "The Seduction of Joe Tynan," has a long-time interest in science. He is host and an interviewer of the award-winning PBS series "Scientific American Frontiers." In 2010, he hosted the science series "The Human Spark" on PBS. On Broadway, he appeared as the physicist Richard Feynman in the play QED.
For tickets and information, www.geffenplayhouse.com.