This past weekend, the BC theatre department delivered a poignant, engaging performance of Melanie Marnich’s play “These Shining Lives,” a heart-wrenching tale about women who just want a rightful place in working society.
The play follows the real-life story of Catherine Donahue, Charlotte Purcell, Pearl Payne and France O’Connell — four women working as “radium girls” at the Radium Dial Company in Chicago, Illinois in the 1920s. These women work tirelessly and diligently to paint one million watches every year with radium that was, at the time, “all the rage.” The women wet their brushes with their own saliva, thus ingesting the radium inside the paint.
The play focuses on Catie Donahue as she sues the company for its unsafe working conditions. Catie wants to be heard in a society where women have been so removed and are only just starting to make their mark with women’s suffrage.
Phoebe Kuhlman played a strong, passionate Catie Donahue fighting for her rights as a woman of the world. Samantha Goober, as Catie’s coworker Pearl, provided genuine comic relief at many times of great hardship. Charlotte Purcell was another standout as she played a naturally sassy, snarky coworker Maggie Macguire.
Junior Jess Shapiro found the actors’ range especially striking.
“What I liked most was the actors' commitment to their roles. I thought they all really embodied their characters and told the story appropriately,” Shapiro said. “Phoebe's performance as Catherine Donahue really stood out to me because she did a fantastic job of being enthusiastic about work in the beginning of the show and then transitioning into being weak and sick at the end.”
All of the performances meshed well together to convey the importance of relationships — between Catie and her husband Tom, played by Kyle Brown, and between Catie and her friends from the clock shop. Brown and Purcell worked well together as the reality of Catie’s diminishing health became more apparent. The bond between the “radium girls” symbolized how the working women became friends in the most unfortunate circumstances, and how much they needed each other to get through it all.
The emotional tinge of the story left its mark on senior Jamie McGregor.
"Absolutely wonderful with brilliant acting. Brought me to tears, twice!" she said.