Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Gregory's play dramatizes the story of Grace Fryer and a few other young women, who worked as dial painters at the United States Radium Corporation in Orange, New Jersey. The women painted military dials and watches with a radium paint so they'd be luminous and glow in the dark. This was highly effective for soldiers to be able to tell time when they were in the trenches at night. Since many of these dials were very small, the girls were instructed to put the paintbrush into their mouths so their lips could get a fine tip on the brush. Little did they know that they were also ingesting a small amount of the radium paint while doing so. As Grace and her fellow workers start to become ill, the plot follows her struggle to prove that the company was to blame for what happened.
The play works well to shed light on these mostly forgotten events and the court case, which was the first of its kind in which a company was proven to be liable for the impact on the health of its employees. Gregory's script is fast paced and informative, pulling in other known facts about radium to show that there were also good things it was being used for at the time. While it is fairly predictable, there are enough twists and turns to add intrigue to the plot.
Claude Pensis' direction of his large cast is very good. Many of the actors play multiple characters and they do so fairly effectively with just a change of accent, body language, or a piece of clothing. Pensis' staging makes great use of Karson Cook's static set design, which is simple but effective in how it uses large warehouse style windows to depict the period and setting of the play. By using furniture that the cast quickly moves on and off stage, the transitions between scenes are fast and fluid and keep the momentum high. The scene change into the court case is especially sharp and creative. Jessica Rumrill's costumes use a palette of beiges, browns and blues in period perfect designs.
With a fire in her soul and a passionate line delivery, Gretchen Carpenter is luminous as the headstrong Grace who refuses to give up on her fight for justice. As the case drags on, Grace finds herself also at odds with her fiancé and her family, who fear she may not win and that it's taking a toll on her health. Carpenter is perfect as the woman who refuses to back down as she finds herself having to battle not just the company but also the people she loves even though she knows she's ill and that she most likely doesn't have long to live.
As Arthur Roeder, head of the United States Radium Corporation, Nick Boisvert does a great job in portraying this man who is steadfast in his beliefs the company didn't do anything wrong, even if that means hiding evidence that shows there may be some proof to Grace's case. As he struggles with the question that if radium saves lives, why would it also hurt people, we see through Boisvert's solid performance the conflicted feelings of the character.
Dalton Smith and Olivia Smoak do very well in several roles, including Grace's boyfriend and mother, respectively, and two reporters competing for details of Grace's story. As Grace's co-worker Kathryn and the woman who works with Grace to seek public sympathy for her situation, Kylie Boggus and Anna Mettes shine. Kaylee Wilson is appropriately understanding as Diane, Roeder's wife, and Cooper Townley and Dawson Woolridge do good work as the girls' lawyer and the founder of the company, who also suffers from the effects of radium, respectively. Jacson Swain is appropriately slimy as Charlie Lee, the scheming company executive.
Radium Girls is a play that has been frequently produced by youth and adult theatres in town and across the country, and Grand Canyon University's production of the poignant drama that focuses on injustice done to these young working women is quite powerful.
Radium Girls runs through October 17, 2021, at Grand Canyon University's Ethington Theatre, 3300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix AZ. For ticket and performance information, please visit http://events.gcu.edu/events/category/ethington-theatre/ or call 602-639-8880
Director: Claude Pensis