Review: ‘These Shining Lives’ shines a light through theatre

Anthony Johnson (left) holds Courtney Pratt's hand during a scene of "These Shining Lives." The show by Melanie march is based on the Radium Crisis in the 1930s and was preformed by the SFA Cast and directed by Jessica Griffin.

"These Shining Lives” by Melanie Marnich, a show based on the Radium Crisis in the 1930s,  was performed by the SFA Cast directed by Jessica Griffin. This was the second downstage production of the semester. It was held on Oct. 11 at 7:30 p.m. and on Oct. 12 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. I was especially excited for this performance ,as I had done it myself in the past. This rendition of the play certainly did not disappoint.

 They set the scene of the play with a greenlit clock in the background, linking the theme of time in every act. At the beginning of the show, the characters defined themselves very well. Catherine, the main character played by Scurry freshman Courtney Pratt, is a traditional wife and mother you would see from the time period. Tom, played by freshman Anthony Johnson from Frisco, is a hardworking man and Catherine’s husband. Charlotte, brought to life by Plano-native freshman Marissa Mondragon, is a more outspoken and promiscuous woman, new to the time period. Frances, played by Houston sophomore Alexis Hargy, and Pearl, played by sophomore Erinn St. Clair from Bastrop, are supportive friends, each bringing a little brightness to every subject with a sense of morality or a sense of humor. They all meet each other when Catherine decides to earn some extra money and work at the Radium Dial Company. All of the girls work together in this setting throughout the play. The ensemble created by the cast here was spectacular. I waited for a scene when they were all together and became excited with each one. 

 The play started gaining momentum when the Catherine experienced an intense pain in her foot. The other women also had their own specific ailments that they are confronting on their own, assuming it was just from hard work. Their relationship progressed, still an amazing ensemble, and so did their conditions. It got to where they had to see the doctor. This was when the company’s foul play came to fruition. The company doctor, played by Drake St. Pierre, waved their issues off by just prescribing aspirin. The women demanded a real diagnosis. Eventually, they went to a doctor who didn’t work for the company, Dr. Dalitsch, also played by Drake St. Pierre. He told them that their conditions are all due to a fatal and irreversible cause of radium poisoning. They all attained radium poisoning by working for the Radium Dial Company. However, none of the risks were addressed to the employees by the company. They conspired to keep it hidden for the sake of business.

At this point, the girls are confronted with the choice of taking this quietly and not sharing it with the public or making a little noise. Inevitably, they decided to not go down without a fight. The characterization here took a remarkable turn. Each actress sought to fight this battle differently. I especially appreciated Marissa Mondragon’s performance as Charlotte. Her attitude was spot on in the way she wanted to prove she wasn’t going to take this from anyone, especially the company. Another character I really enjoyed was Pearl. Her soft-spoken, stay-in-line attitude gradually faded throughout the production very naturally to address the unfair matter at hand. As the ensemble worked up the courage, they went to Grossman, a lawyer portrayed by Jeremiad Hewitt. He presented their case to the court, eventually winning after the seventh appeal to the Supreme Court. 

 As the play drew to a close, the progression of Catherine’s life began to close as well. She was diagnosed with bone cancer, necrosis of the jaw, and extreme radium poisoning, with only a few months left to live. Her husband Tom’s monologue after the final trial was one of the most powerful scenes to me. I would like to thank Anthony Johnson for bringing it to life and giving it justice. After Tom’s final word, the play drew to a close in memoriam to the women who had perished from the Radium Crisis. The cast did a great job with this, moving many people in the audience to tears.

 The SFA Cast and Crew did a phenomenal job with their rendition of this play. It’s one of my favorite plays, and it holds a special place in my heart.

After watching this performance, it made it even better. There is no doubt in my mind that every human being should watch this. Go see it. 

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