“Radium Girls,” the last production of the spring semester, is a gripping historical fiction drawn from a stunning chapter in U.S. labor history. Directed by Assistant Professor of Theatre Chris Woodworth, the show runs from April 17 through 19, at 7:30 p.m. in Bartlett Theatre.
“Radium Girls” is a fictionalized account of the real-life story of young factory workers from New Jersey, centered on Grace Fryer. Like many young women in the 1920s, Fryer worked as a dial painter, delicately painting watch faces with glow-in-the-dark radium paint for the U.S. Radium Corporation. To maintain precision when brushes began to lose their shape, the women “pointed” the brushes in their mouths. As they began to grow sick and die, it was eventually revealed that radium was the culprit as they had consumed the toxic substance for years. Radium, once seen as a miracle cure-all, soon became an agent of death for the Radium Girls. D.W. Gregory’s play sheds light on the fight for justice and workers’ rights fought by Fryer and the other young women.
“This play provokes us to ask what ‘doing right’ means when it comes to corporate innovation, workers’ safety, and employer accountability,” says Woodworth. “Although this piece addresses a unique historic event, I believe it also has contemporary resonance. Stories of abysmal working conditions still persist today throughout the globe. Are we ‘doing right’ by workers now and if not, why?”
Daily Variety has called the play “… an engrossing new drama … The playwright lays out the facts with historical accuracy, descriptive simplicity, and graphic candor.”
The Chicago Stage Review called the play “…a genuine theatrical gift,” and the New York Times referred to Gregory as “… a playwright with a talent to enlighten and provoke.”
“It’s a highly theatrical piece as the story unfolds in a fast-paced episodic structure and actors play multiple characters,” explains Woodworth. She notes it also “provides an exciting challenge for student actors to craft vivid and distinct physical and vocal portrayals of a wide array of figures.”
Gail Quintos ’17 is an Arts Scholar who is making her debut on the Bartlett stage as the lead, Grace Fryer.
“I’m lucky to be working with an amazing ensemble filled with hardworking people who are passionate in acting,” says Quintos. “One thing I love about Grace’s character is that no matter how torn she is throughout the story, she still stands her ground and fights for justice. She never gives up.”
Rick Yackel ’16 plays opposite as Arthur Roeder, the man at the helm of the company who finds himself swept into this battle and confronting his own sense of morality. Yackel recently earned Theatre Association of New York State (TANYS) Excellence in Ensemble Acting Honors for his role as one of The Lovers in the HWS Theatre Program / Geneva Theatre Guild production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Tyler Hatton-Bullock’14, who also earned TANYS Excellence in Ensemble Acting Honors for his role as one of the Lovers in Midsummer, and Drew Helbling ’16 portray reporters. Other members of the Midsummer company return for “Radium Girls,” including Walker Ward ’16 and Andrew Coleburn ’16 (as company men) and Chatham Anastasi ’16 (as a dial painter). Loren Hiser ’15 and Matthew Mulvaney ’14 portray consumer rights’ activists, lawyers and doctors, and Brittany Lopez ’14 plays Marie Curie.
Fittingly, two members of the cast bring science perspectives. Lopez is a senior biology major whose first-year seminar focused on female scientists including Curie. Mulvaney is a senior chemistry major who Woodworth notes “has already offered useful insights into the ‘science’ of the play.”
The production features scene and lighting design by Bill Burd, with co-designer Devyn Workman ’15, and costume design by Cynthia Brookhouse. Kelly Walker is creating an original sound design. Michelle Feda ’15 is stage manager. Kate DePietro ’15 and Elena Ippendorf, an exchange student from the University of Leipzig who previously served as an assistant stage manager for Midsummer, are assistant stage managers.
Associate Professor of Chemistry Christine de Denus will offer a Frame/Works talk on Friday, April 18 at 5 p.m. More information will be provided at a later date.
Tickets for “Radium Girls” will be available at Area Records and the College Store. General admission will cost $5; HWS students are free.