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Review

Radium Girls
by Desert Mountain High School

THE SHOW:  

In the early 1900s, the US Radium Corporation was one of several companies marketing products using the newfound radium discovered in 1898 by Marie Curie. A seemingly miraculous but little-understood product of modern science, companies hawked radium toothpaste and radium water. The US Radium Corporation made use of its glow-in-the-dark qualities to sell watch dials painted with radium. Dozens of women were hired to paint the watch faces. Oblivious to the dangers, many of the women painted their teeth, face, and fingernails with the radium paint. They were taught to make their paintbrushes last longer by wetting them with their tongues. But as they began to get sick, and die, it became increasingly clear that the radium was the cause. A danger that the company’s scientists had long-since realized, but never warned the women about, and never took measures to limit their exposure. A few of the sickened women began a lengthy lawsuit. D.W. Gregory wrote this drama based on the events and the dying women who would become known to the public as “The Radium Girls.”  

THE PRODUCTION:  

Director Marilyn Mumaw and her team at Desert Mountain High School staged this drama with compelling performances and visuals. Those impressive visuals were designed by students, from the 1920s costumes of Anah Soble and Sheel Singh and hair designs by Alana Doyle and Emory Ujano, to the nice lighting touches by Jordan Patterson. That lighting carefully illuminates Jennica Dombrowski’s gorgeous set highlighted by several watch gears that reveal symbols for radiation under black lighting, the gears hovering above the story taking place below and centered by a large, ominous, glowing watch face. Along the back is a screen against which, during scene changes, historical slides are projected of articles, photos, and old advertisements hawking radium-based products.  

Vanessa Benjamin is Grace Fryer, the worker who leads the lawsuit after becoming ill following four years of working for US Radium Corporation. The same illness that claimed her friend Irene Rudolph (nicely portrayed by Hannah Marias), which was initially dismissed as syphilis. Vanessa delivers a terrific performance as she struggles with the fear of the progressing disease, her fiancé (Bryan Cameron) who’s desperate to marry her regardless, her mother (Makenzie Winans) who’s pragmatically desperate for hush money even if it means the end of the lawsuit, and the company representatives who mostly see her as a nuisance. The most powerful moments come between her and Arthur Roeder (Tony Julian), the young company president, who is sincerely fighting to convince himself that he’s properly balancing the interests of his company, the shareholders, and his employees as he tries to eliminate or limit the lawsuit. In the end, all Grace wants is for Arthur to look at her in the courtroom. To see her. But he’s lost his fight with his conscience, and he can’t meet her eyes.  

The cast does a great job, often in multiple roles. Alena Sanderson is amazing as amusingly happy, excitable coworker Kathryn Schaub who becomes increasingly angry and terrified as the radiation sickness slowly takes her life. Just a few other highlights include Genai Cavender as a brash, self-absorbed, publicity-seeking consumer advocate who won’t let herself personally connect with the people she represents. Mark Binkiewicz and Jordan Yampolsky are just trying to connect with more readers as humorous, charismatic, sensationalist reporters of the story. Doctors, coworkers, board members, and family members give us glimpses of the many different viewpoints of the drama. It’s all brilliantly summed up in the last scene as an elderly Roeder returns to finally look at Grace, their intertwined lives flashing quickly across the back screen till it ends at the present moment and his last despairing attempt to come to peace with the lost opportunities for compassion.

Performed November 6 - 8, 2013

Rob Hopper
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Executive Director
National Youth Arts

~ Cast ~ 

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Grace Fryer: Vanessa Benjamin
Kathryn Schaub: Alena Sanderson
Irene Rudolph/Elderly Widow: Hannah Marias
Mrs. Alma Macneil/Customer: Savannah Fields
Arthur Roeder: Tony Julian
Edward Markley: Spencer Shockness
C.B. "Charlie" Lee: Michael Holte
Dr. Von Sochocky/Male Shopper: Drew Fellows
Tom Kreider: Bryan Cameron
Diane Roeder: Erin Eisel
Harriet Roeder: Caroline Kireopoulos
Anna Fryer: Makenzie Winans
Katherine Wiley: Genai Cavender
Raymond Berry: Jaime Pia
Dr. Cecil Drinker/Reporter Jack Youngwood: Mark Binkiewicz
Dr. H. Martland: Kathryn Pastuszak
Dr. Joseph Knef/Lovesick Cowboy: Jake Diehl
Dr. Marie Curie/Board #3: Ruchi Kirtikar
Frederick Flinn Ph.D/Board #1: Luke Heppler
Sob Sister Nancy Jane Harlan: Jordan Yampolsky
William J.A. Bailey: Ruben Fernandez
Mrs. Michaels/Factory Girl #3: Emma Sadiasa
Society Woman/Board #2: Cameron Carlson
Clerk/Nurse: Amanda Melin
Factory Girl #1/Store Owner: Melanie Gladnick
Factory Girl #2/Venecine Salesman: Lauren Baldwin
Photographer/Shop Girl: Caroline Link
Judge: Alyssa Hubbard

Director: Marilyn Mumaw
Production Manager: Daniel Reinhart
Stage Manager: Lily Youssefi
Set Designer: Jennica Dombrowski
Lighting Designer: Jordan Patterson
Sound Designer: Kevin Cole
Costume Designer: Anah Soble and Sheel Singh
Hair & Makeup Designer: Alana Doyle and Emory Ujano
Tech Director: Andrew Hoetker
Film Crew Directors: Vernon Benton and Tony Julian

   

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