Fall Play Preview: Radium Girls

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018


radium girls
Chatham High School is one of the luckiest schools when it comes to having a popular and extensive theater program. Producing an annual play and musical, the theater department is constantly working tirelessly to ensure that their performances fully show how hard they worked to get to that point. The 2018 play, Radium Girls, follows the long and true story of many young women working for the U.S. Radium Corporation as dial painters during WWI, and their fight against the company due to the harmful radium they unknowingly ingested. These girls, in order to make the watch dials as small as possible, dipped their paint brushes in radium-induced paint–to make them glow-in-the-dark–and then were forced to lick the tip of the brush to create a very fine and precise result. Not knowing the radium would be detrimental to their health, the girls did as they were told, and unfortunately they started to deteriorate and grow sick because of the poison in the element.

Being a very emotionally heavy and powerful show, I was immediately intrigued by how the cast and crew decided to approach it. Mrs. Russo, the theater teacher at CHS and the director of Radium Girls, provided me with some insight into the underlying plot-line and process of producing the incredible show. “I hope that the audience will be really engaged in the performance!” she exclaims, “It’s a very emotional and dramatic show that follows several characters for several years,” making the important parts of the show stand out more to the audience during the performance. Mrs. Russo explained that “the story in and of itself is shocking because all this happened just down the road from us [in Orange, New Jersey,] and it was brushed under the carpet for so many years.” All in all, Mrs. Russo effectively communicated to me that the show is so powerful and inspirational. The student and family population of Chatham will feel a special connection to the show, because it was so nearby and the story of what secretly happened is finally out. What those young girls sacrificed all those years ago changed the course of history pertaining to corporate litigation.

Being familiar with the script myself, I can validate Mrs. Russo’s view! And I have to thank the cast members of Radium Girls, who amongst their overwhelmingly busy schedules took the time to sit down with me at a rehearsal and have an incredibly eye-opening conversation about the show. It is evident that they really get to know and understand their characters throughout the course of rehearsals, which further proves how much of their time and energy they dedicate to rehearsing after school. From our group discussion, the select cast members put an emphasis on the good versus the bad, and how those lines are blurred in the show. Mr. Roeder–the President of the U.S. Radium Corporation–represents this idea clearly. Ronan Green, a junior at CHS and the actor portraying Mr. Roeder, said that “[Mr. Roeder] knows what’s right and wrong, that’s why he feels so bad at the end [of the show].” This theme can be interpreted many ways throughout Radium Girls, but Mr. Roeder displays this clearly. Liam Driscoll, a senior playing another key character, Tom Kreider, explained that important trait that a lot of characters possess is the action of becoming more and more self-motivated as time passes, and that is shared among a bundle of characters. It is not something to be overlooked! As senior Emily Alfano puts it, “the show is about the abuse of power."

Radium Girls starts with a glowing green set, like, Wicked green, with a larger-than-life clock in the middle, towering over nine girls, representing the many young women working for the corporation. Mr. Roeder stands at his desk on stage left, blind to the young women working in the factory next to him. Mrs. Russo expressed her love of working with the cast, as she is “thoroughly impressed with the maturity levels of the young actors and their ability to handle such dramatic and difficult material.”

This type of show demands to be seen by a just-as-powerful audience, so get your tickets online or at the newly-renovated CHS auditorium on Friday, November 16th, or Saturday, November 17th. And to my fellow thespians in the show, break a leg!

(Special shoutout to Mrs. Russo, Laney Andreychuk (plays Grace Fryer), Emily Alfano (Mrs./Anna Fryer), Liam Driscoll (Tom Kreider), Roma Welsh (Katherine Schaub), Ronan Green (Arthur Roeder), Amanda Carroll (Mrs. Roeder), and Matt Markay (Dr. Flinn and computer-holder volunteer!!)