Audience members can follow four women with “glowing” personalities as they shed light onto the darkest corners of labor abuse in the U.S. in the play “These Shining Lives” on Thursday, Friday and this upcoming weekend at The Theatre at the Dounda Fine Arts Center.
The play is a docudrama based on true events that occurred before and around a court case the “Radium Girls” filed against U.S. Radium Corp. in Ottawa, Illinois, where they painted watch faces for a living. Kevin Doolen, a professor in the theatre department, previous chair of the department in 2013-2019 and the director of “These Shining Lives,” said the show is heavy to watch.
“It’s agonizing to see what the women go through,” Doolen said. “And yet none of them, either in the writing or the directing or their acting, none of them are victims. As the playwright says: They are too noble for that.”
Despite this, the play will end on an uplifting note.
While the play is based on true events, the playwright, Melanie Marnich, has taken artistic liberties throughout. In Marnich’s notes, she mentioned at times the production can be a choral production, a docudrama or just a play, but Doolen mentioned the play is not just a court drama, nor does it focus on the tragedy or hardships the girls go through.
“It’s about sisterhood,” Doolen said. “It’s about the connection and friendship that women have. That is a bond and a strength that is admirable, to say the least.”
Even though this production takes place nearly a century ago, there are still themes within the play that are relevant today. Lucy Hill, a junior vocal performance major who plays one of the leading roles as Francis O’Connell, said the play is a good reminder that even though it takes place 100 years ago, workplaces need to be held accountable, otherwise history might repeat itself.
“We live in such a capitalistic culture that it’s just like, ‘Oh, the company is doing the best for you because they want healthy workers,’ but this is a blatant reminder that can be a lie,” Hill said. “Like they can say they want the best for you, and they can prove it with tests and stuff, but are they testing for health or the legality of the situation?”
Merri Bork, a junior theatre major who plays the lead role as Catherine Donahue, said several problems the four girls are presented with are still present today, like the wage gap.
“I have a line in the play where I say to my husband, ‘Who knows, maybe I’ll make more than you someday,’ and that kind of really hits me because, like, ‘Wow, there is still a wage gap today.’ If my character knew 100 years ago that in 100 years there would still be a wage gap, that’s just upsetting to me,” Bork said.
Despite the heavy messages in the play and the hardships the women face, Doolen said the production aims to share the uplifting side of the story. Not only that, but he hopes to celebrate the strength of women through the production. He mentioned he took inspiration as a director from the women who raised him.
“I’m dedicating this to all the strong, noble women who raised and inspired me,” Doolen said. “So I was thinking of my mom, in heaven, and my grandmother, my great grandmother and my other grandmother, who went through so much struggle in life and did it with such nobility, and grace and strength, and I want to pay tribute to those kinds of women.”
Once the curtain closes on “These Shining Lives,” Doolen will take his last bow as a professor and director. He will be retiring at the end of the semester.
Tickets for “These Shining Lives” will be for sale at the Doudna ticket office at $5 for students, $13 for seniors and Eastern employees, and $15 for general admission. The play will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, and on Sunday there will be a performance at 2 p.m.
Elizabeth Wood can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]