In 1926, radium was a miracle cure, Madame Curie an international celebrity, and luminous watches the latest rage—until the girls who painted them began to fall ill with a mysterious disease. Inspired by a true story, “Radium Girls” traces the efforts of Grace Fryer, a watch dial painter, as she fights for her day in court.
“It's a tough story about the power workers feel when they unite together to fight for their rights,” says assistant director Isa Glover. At that time, some found it hard to believe the same element that shrinks tumors could have anything to do with the terrifying rash of illnesses among these young women working in the dial painting factories.
“I had some knowledge of the “Radium Girls” case beforehand, but when I read the script and then looked into the facts behind it, I was genuinely shocked,” says Sophia Escudero, who plays Grace. “So many details had initially struck me as added or embellished for dramatic effect, but many of the most horrifying parts of the show were lifted directly from history.”
Grace’s chief adversary is her former employer, Arthur Roeder, one who is in the camp of disbelief and unaccountability. As the case goes on, however, Grace finds herself battling not just with the U.S. Radium Corporation, but with her own family and friends, who fear that her campaign for justice will backfire.
“It’s an astonishing tale of willful ignorance blinded by self-interest, and the havoc it renders,” says Peck. “It’s about the hubris of uncovered technology, a story of the clash of expediency and desire with the needs and welfare of a community and workers. This is the beginning of true workers' compensation.”
While the story is often sad and tackles heavy societal issues, the staging, acting, and production of the play is a theatrical, kinetic event.
“I think audiences will be surprised by the sheer level of energy this show contains and how engaging the narrative is,” says Izzy Waring, who plays multiple characters in the play. “Despite “Radium Girls” being a period piece, I think audiences will really connect with its messages about greed, exploitation, corruption, and grief that still ring true with many people to this day.
The production is literally aglow, as many special effects evoke the radioactivity that is invisible but omnipresent in the play. An unseen character, with no intention of its own, radioactivity is nevertheless altering every character’s arc.
Show dates at the John Van Duzer Theatre, Cal Poly Humboldt:
March 24, 7:30 p.m.
March 25, 7:30 p.m.
March 26, 2 p.m.
March 30, 7:30 p.m.
April 1, 7:30 p.m.
April 2, 2 p.m.
$10 General, $8 Senior/Child/Non-Cal Poly Students, and FREE for Cal Poly Humboldt students with ID.
Tickets may be purchased at the door or in advance by calling 707-826-3928 or visiting centerarts.humboldt.edu. From the "All Events" drop down menu select "Department of Dance, Music & Theatre" and select your event. Wearing face masks is not mandatory, but is strongly encouraged.