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Theatre Fri Jan 30 2009

Extra Show Added for These Shining Lives

These Shining Lives, the Jeff-recommended play directed by Rivendell Theatre Ensemble's Rachel Walshe, closes this weekend. Shows are sold out, but an additional show has been added, today at 4pm. Tickets can be purchased until 3pm today. Go to the website to purchase tickets online.

If you can make it, I highly recommend attending. Throughout the play's over two-hour duration my eyes were glued to the stage, my ears listening attentively. Even if theater is not your thing, you will enjoy this show. Based on Ross Mulner's book, Deadly Glow: The Radium Dial Worker Tragedy, appropriately published by the American Public Health Association, the play written by Melanie Marnich chronicles the story of four women affected by what is known as the radium dial worker tragedy.

Although the tragedy is perhaps not as commonly known as the epidemic of human immunodeficiency virus, it's an important chapter of American history, especially pertinent due to the fact that the last radium dial worker that died from radium poisoning is documented as 1983 in Mulner's book.

Discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie in the early 1900s, radium was heralded for its astonishing ability to glow in the dark. In 1902, William J. Hammer, an American electrical engineer, invented a paint using minute amounts of radium that when used on watches and scientific instruments, could be read in the dark. Due to its high cost, however, the commercial benefits of this discovery were not pursued until 1917, when America's entry into WWI created the demand for radium-treated devices.

Hundreds of women gained lucrative employment as dial painters, using a finely pointed brush to apply the paint to watches and other instruments. To speed up the application, the women commonly tipped the brush to their tongue, which over time led to them absorbing the radium that caused their premature deaths.

In These Shining Lives, the story centers on Catherine, a young mother and wife who finds happiness, good pay, and friendship through her work as a radium dial worker at an Ottawa factory during the 1920s, but who ultimately becomes poisoned with radium. Faced with an inevitable fatality, Catherine has to decide between telling the truth to the public about her employer's misdeeds, or accepting her lot with resignation.

Ultimately, the play's theme of "shining" examines the paradoxical beautiful and tragic nature of life. Rebecca Spence (Catherine) shows her husband that her skin is actually glowing in the dark, a foreshadowing of further debilitation, yet the four women enjoying the glowing sun at Lake Michigan suggest that life and death are intrinsically interwoven. Spence conveys a luminosity in this role, with a gentle smile and affecting grace. All the actors are superbly cast and highly endowed performers, with the women in particular successful in drawing audience sympathy.

Clearly director Walshe pays close attention to the development of character. Spence admirably "shines" as the seemingly gentle but surprisingly strong Catherine and Justine C. Turner displays noteworthy acting chops as Charlotte, the tough-as-nails but ultimately vulnerable friend and co-worker.

"You're my hero," Charlotte tells Catherine, in a scene that culminates the play's exploration of how women are affected by history.

The Rivendell Theatre, which focuses on plays about women, has two plays in store for the next half year: The Walls, directed by Lisa Dillman, to debut April 8, 2009, and Fresh Produce, coming in July 2009.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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