Set in Warsaw, Poland, the story of sisters Manya and Bronia is one of hardship and overcoming, of oppression and inspiration. The tale has been brought to life in the play "Manya and Bronia: Marie Curie and her sister" written by Stirling Mackie.
"The play tells the story of the early life of chemist Marie Curie and her older sister Bronia; it covers roughly the years 1878 to 1894 and takes place mainly in Warsaw, Poland. The play chronicles the hardships the two girls face as they try to get their educations at the University of Paris, from the oppression of their Polish culture during a time of Russian occupation to their deep financial woes. I wrote it to be an inspiration to young girls who are interested in science, as Marie Curie was for me while I was studying chemistry in college," Mackie explained. "in college I was a theater and chemistry double major, and it hit me one day that a great way to combine these two majors was to write a play about the life of Marie Curie, someone I'd spent a long time idolizing even before college."
Mackie knew from as early as her freshman year in college that she wanted to write something about Curie's life—though she wasn't sure exactly what that would look like.
"A very very early draft of this play from maybe 2017 was about the elements that Marie and her husband, Pierre Curie, discovered, but as I did more research I found that when Marie had already been dramatized it was almost always about this era of her life, never her childhood. Coincidentally, it was her earlier years that I found most interesting," she said. "As the play developed I found myself more and more drawn to the relationship that Marie had with her sister, Bronia. Originally Bronia was only in maybe two or three scenes in the whole script, but as I wrote I found that theirs was the most compelling relationship in Marie's whole early life. I wanted to explore and portray this relationship more, and the play turned into what it is now, the story of Bronia as much as the story of Marie."
She said three years of reading, brainstorming and research took place before she actually put pen to paper during the spring semester of her senior year.
"The goal of every scene was to in some way show a barrier that Marie faced on her way to the University of Paris, and show how she and Bronia were able to overcome each problem. An example of this is one scene where a schoolmate of theirs finds out that her brother is going to be executed by the Russians," Mackie said of her creative process. "
The story of Manya and Bronia is Mackie's first full-length play, but it's not her introduction to theater by a long shot.
"I've been involved with RSU theater for basically my entire life. In 2004 my mom was in the faculty play about the life of the Buddha and I saw that, and it was my first play at RSU," she recalled. "I've been involved with A Midsummer Night's Dream, Decision Height, Love Locked, and many more productions over the years.
She's been an actor, helped back stage and with props, or has been alongside her mother who worked as stage manager, director or assistant director.
Mackie's work is being brought to life by RSU Theater on Feb. 20 and Feb. 21 beginning at 7 p.m. in the RSU Performance Studio.
Tickets are $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for faculty, staff and students.