These Shining Lives.

These Shining Lives.

These Shining Lives.

By Katy Shenk

Student Life Editor

“Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock,” echoed the glowing green timepiece on the center stage of Tawes Theatre, shining like the lives and bodies of the four protagonists in this weekend’s performance.

“These Shining Lives,” written by Melanie Marnich and directed by senior Rachel Treglia, details the story of four women — Catherine Donohue, Charlotte Purcell, Frances O’Connell, and Pearl Payne — who work at the Radium Dial Company in the 1920s and ‘30s.

Tasked with painting timepiece faces using a radium compound powder, the women eventually sue Radium Dial, who neglected to warn their employees about radium’s fatal effects.

Though based on a true story, “These Shining Lives” is categorized as a memory play: a story told from the perspective of one narrator, and in this case, Catherine Donohue.

“A memory play is a play where it’s not real life, it’s from a character’s memory. So things could be a little ajar,” Treglia said.

Originally an American studies major, Treglia was drawn to the play because it sheds light on a little-known historical event.

“I loved doing ‘These Shining Lives’ because it was based on real people, and it’s something that’s really relevant now with the idea of women, who are the minority in society, who are fighting against the patriarchy,” Treglia said.

Though the plot is tragic, the friendship that develops between the four women showcases their personalities and serves as comedic relief.

“I think my favorite scene is a beach scene, where the women go to the Great Lakes, and they just have a day for themselves, and it’s their happiest moment,” Treglia said.

The play also explores the relationship between Catherine and her husband Tom as they both adjust to Catherine’s role as a working woman and later grapple with the imminence of her death.

After over nine years of working at Radium Dial and ingesting radium powder, the women begin to experience serious ailments such as ulcers, anemia, and bone cancer.

A visit to a Chicago doctor finally reveals the cause of their illness: radium poisoning.

“My favorite line is in scene 18 when Tom tells Catherine, ‘No one on earth can hold a candle to you. No one in heaven will come close.’ It is such a powerful yet sweet moment when Tom is reassuring Catherine that she won’t be forgotten when she dies,” said senior stage manager Rachel Williams.

For Williams and Treglia, who has stage managed previous productions, the most exciting part of the process was seeing all of the elements come together in the final weeks of rehearsal.

“The most rewarding part of managing the show is finally being in charge of it during tech week. It is stressful but having the power over such a beautiful production is incredibly rewarding when it goes exactly as planned,” Williams said.

The final scenes of the play see Catherine’s case go to trial, the reaction of the press, and her testimony in front of the Supreme Court.

Junior Emily Kreider reflected on the impact the real-life radium girls brought about through their legal battles.

“These girls made a change so that future employees would be respected and treated well by the people they worked for. Because of the radium girls, changes and laws were put in place to ensure that companies could no longer abuse the health and well-being of their staff,” she said.

Treglia acknowledged these changes and the theme of female empowerment in her director’s note, which she left intentionally sparse of commentary in an effort to allow the audience to take away “what they can.”

“I don’t want anyone to sway [the audience] in a direction of what they can take away from it. It doesn’t have to be the same play for everyone,” Treglia said.

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