Mary Kate Ganley
McLean High School
Miracles are a rarity, but they do happen: with Penicillin, x-rays, and for a time it seemed, radium. The wonderful substance that shrank tumors, illuminated watches and poisoned the girls painting the dials. Bishop Ireton High School's performance of "Radium Girls" emphasized the idea that even if intentions are pure, consequences can last, or shorten, a lifetime.
Originally published in 2000 and written by D.W. Gregory, "Radium Girls" is set in the Roaring 20's, when Marie Curie's discovery of a Radium revolutionized industry around the world. Though the scientists in the labs were protected from Radium's harmful effects, the young women who worked factories to paint the small, glowing numbers on watches received little in the way of protection. They were even encouraged to shape the tips of their brushes with their lips. This true-to-life story follows three young workers, Irene Rudolph, Kathryn Shaub, and Grace Fryer. With radium poisoning plaguing their lives, Grace fights to sue against her employer before her time runs out. Her main fight is against Arthur Roeder, a man who climbed the company ranks and refuses to believe that the miracle drug could be the culprit behind these ladies' mystery illness. "Radium Girls" analyzes the trouble that comes with new technology, and the time it takes to fully comprehend how it affects the world around it.
Amongst a large cast of superb performers, Lyndsey Lawrence's performance as Grace Fryer created a level of intimacy in the cast and show. With a fluid transition from doormat to dynamo, Lawrence provided a look into the true pain caused by the irony of a "miraculous medicine" being the reason her life is destroyed. Juxtaposing Lawrence's transition was Andrew Holland, as Arthur Roeder. Holland's rough businessman exterior coupled with his fear for the unintended consequences of his actions as his idealistic dreams come crashing down around him added an element of understated passion to the performance.
Kip Sisel's role as loyal Tom Kreider provided a domestic look at the changes in Grace's life and her ability to love. Their relationship highlighted the new aspect of not only the losses faced by the women hurt but the effect it had on those closest to them. One such victim was Kathryn Shaub, played by Abigail Abraham, who descended into disease in front of Grace's eyes. Abraham's incredible range of talents was revealed not only through her change from bubbly to fearful as her slow progression into disease that had already claimed two lives close to her, but also through her ability to physicalize well.
Costume and makeup crews worked in tandem to create the pictures of the decay that the women truly faced. Each character affected by the radium seemed to age slowly, as if a clock was running too quickly on their lives, eyes seemed to get darker each scene, as cheekbones seemed to slowly be pushing against the actresses' skin as their health declined. The costume crew worked diligently to create the visual of light dimming in their outfits, and went so far as to create, alter and embellish 42 different costumes. Set crews worked quickly, making each scene flow in one continuous cycle.
Though miracles may not be common, with a stunning cast, stellar tech and an overall amazing production that ran like clockwork, Bishop Ireton High School's performance of "Radium Girls" may certainly be a miracle of theatre itself.
Mount Vernon High School
Whether healthy or sick, poor or wealthy, everyone runs out of time eventually. Bishop Ireton High School's production of Radium Girls portrays this idea of time in mature and profound ways. Set primarily throughout the 1920s, Radium Girls focuses on factory dial painter Grace Fryer, as she wages a campaign for justice after she and her friends are found to have radiation poisoning from the radium in the paints at the U.S. Radium Corporation. This company will do everything in its power to stop this battle from hitting the courts, but Grace continues to strive with the turbulent force of this case, knowing that if she doesn't, these victims will never see justice.
Grace Fryer, played by Lyndsey Lawrence, is portrayed with a collected sense of dignity and self-worth, as well as clear intent and resolve. Lawrence displays the change from hesitant to motivated in her performance, screaming her loudest to the audience in her quietest moments, resisting against her fading life with powerful delivery of lines in her final scenes. Arthur Roeder, the CEO of the U.S. Radium Corporation, acts as a foil to Grace, but one that is just as important to the story. Arthur, played by Andrew Holland, carries himself onstage forcefully, displaying the character's drive for success and eventual downfall through tone in dialogue and body language. Holland does a fantastic job at making the character sympathetic and depicting him with humanity, emphasizing the moral grey areas to prevent the character from feeling like a stock antagonist. This is displayed most notably in a striking scene from Act 2, where he and his wife Diane (Olivia Hays) are discussing the fallout from the press's weight on the lawsuit being filed. The building tension and high emotions between Hays' shame and Holland's guilt give this scene weight, helping put the rest of the show into perspective.
Thoughtful considerations for the time and overall themes were evident the show's technical design. The Costume Team paid thorough attention to detail when designing the outfits for the show, using vintage dress patterns from the period when creating several the outfits used in the performance. They, along with the make-up team, helped visualize the continuing sickness of the girls as they used more muted and somber colors for characters as their health weakened. Minimalist lighting was chosen for a less theatrical and rawer stylization, becoming dimmer as the light of characters began to burn out. Set pieces would be moved across the stage as the previous scene would be wrapping up, allowing scene transitions to be notably quick to keep steady pacing.
Bishop Ireton High School's production of Radium Girls successfully depicts the burden that comes with time with sincerity and subtlety. Performances by the cast are grounded, depicting a real sense of struggle, guilt, and loss without ever being too over the top. The technical design envisions the deterioration that builds throughout the story, encapsulating the audience in despair as the inevitable occurs. Bishop Ireton's cast and crew use the story of Radium Girls not only as a look into the tragedy of the past, but as a way for viewers to reflect on their own lives and future, asking the audience to make the most of their own time before it's too late.