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Radium Girls, South County High School, Lorton, Virginia, November 22, 2019

Elena Auclair

Teen Theatre Company


Should it matter if a company owner cannot recall the faces of the factory girls working for him? How they were slowly being killed by his glowing radioactive radium paint? South County High School's production of Radium Girls was powerfully presented by high schoolers who personified the real characters in this tragic historical drama.  


The play, "Radium Girls," was written by D.W. Gregory, based on the true story of the radium girls in the 1920's. Young women working with radium paint met their quota by licking, or "lip-pointing" the brushes. With each lick, they ingested radioactive radium. As Grace Fryer, a watch dial painter for the U.S. Radium Corporation, sued the company, the radium girls made front-page news, exposing how the lack of understanding radium's deadly characteristics led to their deaths.  


Grace Fryer (Mincy Barbosa) was an intense performer who set the tone of "Radium Girls." Barbosa's energy slowly depleted throughout the play, as she struggled with a long legal battle she seemed to be losing. Barbosa's two friends, Kathryn Schaub (Shaylen Estrella), and Irene Rudolph (Aren Iverson) made up the radium girls, who played with the paint and talked about boys and flowers in Act I. But in Act II, after Iverson's death, Barbosa and Estrella exhibited deep and genuine desperation, anger, and hopelessness through their constrained postures and moments of silence. 


Tom (Zach Patel) was Barbosa's loyal fiancé, providing lightheartedness in Act I with easy teasing that switched to heartbreaking scenes in Act II emphasized by Patel's expressions and natural delivery. As the company owner, Arthur Roeder (Aadith Iyer) kept an upright posture that slowly slipped as his mistakes compounded. The reporters, played by Ella Nguyen and Kevon Thompson, kept America updated on the radium girls with energy straight from the 1920's. Thompson's other role as the Lovesick Cowboy drew laughs from the audience as he propositioned Estrella, and his performance as the lawyer, Berry, was serious as he defended the radium girls.  


The set contained three levels that isolated different scenes throughout the play. Leads Ella Nguyen and Mikayla Park created a factory workplace on the top level that shadowed the stage with a huge clock. Lighting by Sarah Khalil brightened the stage with radium, represented with a slight green tint in the white lights, and a green glow during transitions. Hair, makeup, and special effects by Erika Laurito, Bella Mazzei, Gwyn Carter, and Adrian Alora created a three-dimensionality to the world built on stage. Horrible sores and wounds for the radium girls grew during the play, contrasting with their neatly pulled back hair. Projections on either side of the stage highlighted key moments, especially the striking headlines of the reporters. Ryan Bonanno and Julien Monette composed all the music for the show, using ominous strings and dissonant tones to fit the theme. A clock ticked in Act I, slowing down in Act II, representing the desperate fight for a fair trial that was delayed, again and again.   


South County High School's production of Radium Girls examined the real-life tragedy of what happens when there is much light, but no understanding. At the very end of the play, Iyer talked about how he couldn't recall any of the faces of the girls that worked for him. And at that moment, the images of the now-deceased radium girls working up at the factory turned and looked down at him. Hindsight illuminated by glowing, terribly powerful radium.

Zander Kuebler

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology


Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Time is running out for the fatally ill radium girls at South County High School, and the clock's ticking provides an eerie reminder of the tragedy yet to come.


Written in 2000, D.W. Gregory's Radium Girls provides an authentic depiction of the 1920's controversy surrounding the sicknesses of factory-working women, aka the radium girls, who painted watch dials with dangerous radium-filled paint. First premiering at The Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, the frightening two-act tale sheds light on the corruption within the American legal system, and questions just how much of modern science can be trusted. 


While Radium Girls follows the story of all of the New Jersey radium girls, it focuses on one woman in particular:  the resilient and dedicated Grace Fryer. Mincy Barbosa takes on this role with ruthless dedication to her character, expertly drawing sympathy for her unfortunate situation, while still maintaining the extreme motivation needed to combat the difficulties surrounding her. As the story progresses and Fryer becomes increasingly sick and angry, Barbosa exemplifies the transition of her character with a dramatic change in physicality and tone, practically erupting with anger near the end of the story.


Opposite to the drastic increase in Fryer's anger is the United States Radium Corporation president, Arthur Roeder, who must maintain calm demeanor throughout the tragedy. Aadith Iyer's smooth, aloof depiction of Roeder contrasts beautifully with Barbosa's extreme inflation of anger as Fryer, making for intense scenes between the two when meeting in court.


The passionate portrayals of the other radium girls adequately echo the struggles Fryer faces. Aren Iveson as Irene Rudolph and Shaylen Estrella as Kathryn Schaub, two girls who each fall ill and die from the radium, shine as they transition from bubbly, energetic girls, to sick, bedridden young women, driving the energy behind the production.


Enhancing the fear and tension surrounding this already fierce battle for employee rights are the costume and makeup crews, providing impressively realistic representations of the physical decay the women faced. The faces of the radium-plagued girls are slowly covered in grotesque blisters and boils, and their hair and clothing become more and more disheveled as they grow sicker, demonstrating the remarkable accuracy of the two departments. A bone-chilling, completely original score by students Julien Monette and Ryan Bonanno adds to the terror as well. The foreboding ticking of a clock is present in each song, ultimately getting faster as the time left in the radium girls' lives diminishes further and further, striking fear into the hearts of audience members with each tick.


Bringing a horrendous 1920's controversy to life, South County High School's Radium Girls leaves little to be desired in the means of tech and acting alike.



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