“Radium is Dangerous”: Emotional Fall One Act Beautifully Executed

Thomas Hudson, Reporter

“Radium is dangerous,” Dr. Von Sochoky, played by Jacob Hammers (10) stated in this year’s performance of “Radium Girls” by D.W. Gregory. Set in the 1920’s following the Great War, “Radium Girls” focuses on the story of Grace Fryer, played by Maggie Anderson (9). Working for the US Radium Corporation since she was young, Grace painted watch dials for them. The watch dials were made luminescent by paint made with radium. To paint the dials, one would need a very fine brush tip, so the girls in the plant would point them with their lips. By ingesting radium, the girls began experiencing adverse effects that were unknown at the time.

The play opens with Arthur Roeder, played by Spencer Briggs-Hale (11), wandering around a  seemingly deserted factory. There is a certain emptiness to the stage occupied only by Roeder, but it seems like others are watching from the shadows. Offstage, we hear the voice of Roeder’s daughter, Harriet, played by Camille Kuhlman (9). Roeder then begins explaining about the last time he saw someone, a girl. He explains that what happened wasn’t his fault. He just sold, he never created.

The scene changes with Roeder removing his coat and moving to a podium while girls in white coats enter behind him. A supervisor, Mrs. MacNeil, and Charlie Lee, played by Ben Schwartz (9), enter the stage. Roeder congratulates the accomplishments that have been made possible by radium in the past few years. He explains how Luminescent watches and instruments that helped lead the way to victory over Imperial Germany, and the possibility of radium being used to fight cancer. This is just the opening scene in a play that was filled with such powerful imagery.

As the play continues, we see the growth of Grace Fryer through her engagement to Tommy Greider, played by Matt Rivera (12). We are also able to see her relationships with friends like Kathryn Schaub (Alison Lanning, 11), who is frantic about what is happening to their friends until, she too, is struck with the ailment. Irene Rudolph (Autumn Gray, 10) also falls ill and dies. Grace is left confused. She knows her clock is ticking. She feels herself herself growing weaker. Of course, at first, we don’t know what is causing the illness. Syphilis, white phosphorus, poor hygiene and diet are all suggested by her doctor.

Grace decides to consult Katherine Wiley, (Ailsa Connors, 10) a lawyer. They take on US Radium in a court battle. After a drawn out process due to US Radium constantly stalling, they win the judges approval for staying within the statute of limitations. But the end takes a tragic turn with US Radium winning. The company is shut down, but the surviving girls only receive $250,000 as compensation.

Grace Fryer died in 1933 as a result of the radioactivity in her body. The play closes back in the factory with just Roeder and his daughter. Grace comes on, dressed in the white tunic. “I couldn’t speak to her. I wanted to say something, I knew the words, I just couldn’t do it,” Roeder says.

One of the cast members was  Valerija Barkanova, one of Manitou’s exchange students. Barkanova is from Riga, Latvia and is part of the FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange) program. “I was really excited to take part in such a great show and get an amazing experience. I think that everyone should try  theater,” she said.

This particular play was one that touched every audience member with its powerful message and excellent casting and directing, done by director Wendy Harms.