Santiago Ramón y Cajal, pioneering Spanish neuroscientist and artist – on stage this weekend in SOLDIER OF THE MIND

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"1943","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"577","style":"width: 300px; float: right; height: 248px; margin: 5px 10px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"700"}}]]This weekend the First Light Festival features a Rough Cut Presentation of Soldier of the Mind, Justin Fleming’s drama about the path-breaking Spanish neuroscientist and artist Santiago Ramón y Cajal. After attending a reading of the play at last year’s First Light Festival, Mary Beth Aberlin, editor-in-chief of The Scientist, interviewed the playwright about what motivated him to write about Cajal:  

“Here was a man who had wanted to be an artist, but yielded to his father's insistence that he desist with art and follow a career in medicine. So when he discovered that neurons were not a continuous mesh or reticulum but were independent and contiguous, he was able to draw the discovery. . . . To a playwright, this story was a gift—art, science, father and son at the center of a dramatic conflict."

In “Nervy Production” on The Scientist’s website, Aberlin offers her own appreciation of Cajal as a dramatic subject:

The play begins in 1887 when Cajal is 35 years old and yet to be famous. It dramatizes the period when the Spanish neuroscientist performed the studies of brain anatomy that ultimately won him the 1906 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. (His cowinner was Camillo Golgi, developer of the "black reaction," a staining technique modified by Cajal, the scientist, to produce stunning images of the brain drawn by Cajal, the artist.)

As a dramatic persona Cajal, is a gold mine—he's a driven researcher in a country whose science is disdained in Germany and France, an artist, husband and father, conflicted son, and a writer. Just before Cajal conducted his studies of brain anatomy, he wrote a dozen science fiction stories, five of which were not published until 20 years later, after the author was famous.

Reading these stories, Fleming told Aberlin, he discovered Cajal’s mordant sense of humor, which infuses his characterization of the scientist. When, in the play, Cajal’s wife asks him, “What is an oxymoron?,” Cajal replies, “A Spanish scientist. There I was, foolishly imagining, on the basis of mere probability, that if I sent out enough copies [of his brain-anatomy findings], at least one prestigious personage might condescend to read it. But, no. Not one reply.”

Aberlin quotes contemporary Harvard neuroscientist Josh Saries on Cajal: “Cajal was an incredible genius in that he could look at one neuron in each of 100 mice and then go home and draw a picture that synthesized all of that information. And almost always he got that right."

Read more about Cajal in “Nervy Production,” by Mary Beth Aberlin at The Scientist.

Don’t miss the Rough Cut Presentation of Soldier of the Mind on Saturday, February 16 at 7 PM and Sunday, February 17 at 2 PM at The Ensemble Studio Theatre. Purchase tickets here