Review: 'These Shining Lives' conveys powerful, honest emotion

The Newtonite

by Maddie Griswold

Theatre Ink’s first show of the year, “These Shining Lives,” ran Thursday, Oct. 31 through Saturday, Nov. 2 in the auditorium.

Directed by seniors Mackenzie Dreese and Steven Kelly, the play, based on a true story, told the tale of Catherine Donahue, played by senior Emma Hanselman, and three other women as they worked in the fictional Radium Dial Factory in the 1920s to early 1930s.

“It’s not a fairy tale, though it starts like one. It’s not a tragedy, though it ends like one,” Hanselman says ominously at the start of the show, a massive clock behind her contrasting her small frame, with glowing numbers to match her eerie words.

The introduction from Hanselman segues into an all too typical family scenario. Tom, played by sophomore Nadav Konforty, acts as a reassuring husband as he soothes the nerves of skittish Catherine, who is interviewing for a position at the factory that day. Hanselman and Konforty play off each other with ease, providing some comic relief.

The scene changes as the focus turns to Radium Dial. Cue Charlotte, Pearl, and Frances, played by junior Aiden O’Neal, senior Hannah Gallogly and freshman Yael Soran respectively.

The so-called “ladies of Radium Dial” welcome Catherine with (mostly) open arms, but of course not without sass from the ever outspoken Charlotte. Her quips keep the dialogue moving effectively, while clear roles are quickly established within the group of women.

When Mr. Reed, played by senior Will Champion, introduces Catherine that day, he hardly realized that he was acquainting her with what would become her own tightly knit circle of friends.

As time went on, the women work tirelessly day-by-day, dipping their brushes in radium and licking the tips to form a point, striving for perfection with every luminous watch face they painted. And their friendship continued to grow.

In one euphoric, dream-like scene, the girls take a trip to Lake Michigan, laughing, boozing, and lounging out on a blanket to list the things that “shined”. This strong imagery foreshadows an occurrence to come: after years of work at the factory, they begin to notice their hands and faces glowing, a result of the radium.

Soon, it becomes apparent that their bliss was short-lived.

After several years of work at Radium Dials, Catherine complains of her aches and pains to her husband, who is already overworked and exasperated from attempting to manage their twins and the house in Catherine’s absence. Passionate fights ensue, with impressive displays of emotion from Konforty that seem entirely genuine.

It all comes crashing down when Catherine and her friends finally come to terms with the reality of their situation. They are all feeling terrible, having symptoms that doctors refuse to treat or acknowledge. One by one, they are laid off from the company by Mr. Reed. Nobody has any answers as to what is going on, and it infuriates them. The remainder of the play tells the story of their search of exposing Radium Dial’s unethical treatment of their workers to the public and the courts, even while the ladies are struggling from fatal radium poisoning.

Throughout the show, the strength of the actors was conveyed in their ability to channel a wide range of emotions, but the standout moment of the night was Catherine’s powerful monologue about time and time’s power over us. The raw emotion that was held in Hanselman’s desperate plea for more time was enough to captivate the audience.

The ongoing theme of time provides a tempo for the play, carried on to the very end, creating a powerful show that brought many audience members to tears.