By: Sarina D. (’19)
Everyday after school, as we head to our sports practices or instrument lessons or SAT prep classes, the cast of Radium Girls goes back in time 100 years to factory life in Illinois. Featuring Crystal Students from all four grades, Radium Girls is a dynamic ensemble piece that tells the stories of female laborers in early 20th century Illinois who contracted radiation poison from painting watch dials with self-luminous paint, despite being told that the paint was harmless. The play’s director, Mr. Waters, explained that he chose the play because it had a large cast and would pose a challenge to the actors, who have taken on comedies in the last few Crystal productions. Radium Girls is dark and full of challenges, but ultimately delivers a message of hope.
Based on the true lives and stories of radium dial painters, Radium Girls centers around introverted but determined Grace Fryer, a dial painter who fights for her day in court against the will of her chief adversary and former employer, Arthur Roeder. Representative of his time, Roeder cannot fathom that the same element that transformed medicine through shrinking tumors could possibly infect his employers with widespread illness. Grace soon finds, however, that Roeder and the U.S Radium Corporation are only the beginning of her worries, as she ends up caught in a battle with her own family and friends, who fear the repercussions of her campaign for justice.
Crystal’s adaptation features Brianna R. ‘19 as resilient protagonist Grace Fryer and Peyton H. ‘18 as uptight and delusional boss Roeder.
To address the major conflict of of the play, Roskind explains that “The play really centers on the idea that the radium corporation is unaware that their products are radioactive and as a result are shocked and disbelieving of the legal repercussions they face.”
Adding to Roskind, Hayden L. 19’ details that the attorneys for the U.S Radium Company are hungry for a triumph over what they dismiss as a petty complaint from begrudged girls. When speaking to his character, Logan states that“Mr. Markley is cold, serious, and determined to suppress the voices of the girls, who have the power to seriously take down a big industrial system and enterprise.”
When asked about the meaning of the play, Mr. Waters told us, “For me, the significance of Radium Girls lies in the fact that it dramatizes a true story of a marginalized group combatting power structures that oppress them. Because of their gender, their youth, and their economic status, the suffering of these women was largely ignored and unanswered until they refused to be ignored. And not only does it celebrate these young women but it presents a personal and honest depiction of some of the people in power and the guilt, culpability, and effect it has on their life. Telling these stories in nuanced ways helps us to better understand our own world and the call to action we have in the face of oppression today”.
With a variety of characters, from friends, to coworkers, to relatives, to attorneys, to scientists, Radium Girls tells the stories of radium dial painters with humor, warmth, and honesty in a two hour, highly-theatrical production. It examines the balancing act of American values of health and wealth, and offers an unflinching insight into the American obsession with the commercial realm of science. The play takes on the struggle of laborers for rights in the workplace in a capitalist society. It also takes on the internal struggle of a woman, who must choose between standing up for what she knows is just or maintaining the status quo. It emphasizes the common conflict of deciding between facing disapproval but upholding justice, or passively putting others in danger but assuring one’s place in society.
Currently, the team is working on finding appropriate props, costumes, and sets, in an effort to really get the details right and ensure the audience will be immersed in the story. They are also faced with the challenge of understanding the characters in the context of their time, and accurately portraying social and gender norms in the 1920s, although sometimes exploring this context can be ugly or upsetting.
“By studying how people of different periods thought, we not only add depth and truth to our performance, we expand our empathy and our understanding of our own values,” Mr. Waters says, addressing the benefits of taking on the challenge of understanding people from a different time period.
The cast and crew are working hard to create the production, which will come to the stage in less than a month! Come support your friends and buy tickets to see Radium Girls on Friday, November 3rd, at 7:00pm, or Saturday, November 4th, at 2:30pm, in the theater!