“Someone has to let people know it’s broken,” says a character in the drama “These Shining Lives,” referring to the lack of concern by companies to protect the health of employees.
“I think the message of this play is that it’s always worth standing up for what is right,” said Kasandra Hesek, who is directing The Riverfront Playhouse’s production of “These Shining Lives.” “These women were affected by radium poisoning, but rather than just lay down and die, they fought the company to make sure no one else met the same fate.”
“These Shining Lives” will be presented at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays from March 15-April 20 at The Riverfront Playhouse in Aurora.
“These Shining Lives,” written by Melanie Marnich, is based on the true story of four women who worked at The Radium Dial Company in Ottawa, Illinois, in the 1920s. The women get well-paying jobs at the company that entail painting the hour markings on to different-sized watch dials using a radium compound which glows in the dark. The company tells the women that there is no evidence that the radium is harmful.
After a few years, the ladies develop ailments, such as jaw infections and bone pain, but several local doctors simply prescribe aspirin. Eventually the women find a doctor who is willing to diagnose the women with radium poisoning, and they decide to file a lawsuit against The Radium Dial Company.
“I love history and sharing it with others,” Hesek said. “Not only did these women shape workplace safety regulations, the Radium Girls, as they came to be known, advanced our understanding of radiation and its effects on the human body. The survivors were tested periodically throughout their lives. These women were strong, moral characters, ready to do what was right. I hope this play will cause more people to look into the story of the Radium Girls and learn more about what they did for us as a country.”
One of the challenges in presenting the play is the limited space offered at The Riverfront Playhouse.
“The biggest difficulty in directing at the Riverfront is the stage size,” said Hesek, who has appeared on stage in Riverfront productions but is directing at the venue for the first time. “This play has multiple settings and a plethora of characters. Making everything fit in a visually appealing way is always a challenge.”
Also challenging is that the cast of eight actors take on multiple roles.
“The eight actors play 15 roles,” Hesek said. “The best advice I can give them is to make sure they are varying their vocal quality, their physicality, and having a clear intent behind all their dialogue. That’s the basics of creating new characters.”
Hesek feels part of the play’s appeal is the real-life characters.
“The play takes what could be an extremely political message (government regulation) and humanizes it,” she said. “The audience hears an honest, touching story about how these women’s lives were changed and the fight they went through to make sure it didn’t happen to anyone else.”
‘These Shining Lives’
When: March 15-April 20
Where: The Riverfront Playhouse, 11-13 South Water Street Mall, Aurora
Information: 630-897-9496; www.riverfrontplayhouse.com
Randall G. Mielke is a freelance reporter for the Beacon-News.
This story was originally published in the Beacon-News. Click here.