Radium Girls: Two Thumbs Up
By Noah Liedtke
This year, Northside’s annual fall play was “Radium Girls.” Its four performances took place on Nov. 29 at 5:30 p.m, Nov. 30 and Dec. 5 at 7:00 p.m, and Dec. 2 at 3:00 p.m. The play was directed by Ms. Kyra Doherty, English Department, and managed by Lexy Chilson, Adv. 908, and Aiyana Buchanan, Adv. 006. I watched the Sunday matinee performance, and notably, the show still drew a large crowd on its fourth day. Part of the audience consisted of students from Whitney Young Magnet High School, who previously performed the same play, and came to support the Northside production.
“Radium Girls” is a dramatic dark comedy set in the 1910’s, focusing on the popularity of products containing the radioactive element radium. People thought it was a cure-all because of its cancer-curing abilities and were not aware of the dangers it possessed. Radium was used in countless household products, even water. The play focuses on two girls who worked in a factory painting aircraft dials for World War I with radioluminescent radium paint. The plot is based on the true story of the U.S Radium Company who hired about 1,000 women to paint items with radium. The company made these workers point the tips of their paint brushes by putting it to their lips. Three of these women were Grace Fryer, played by Betty Slatkoff, Adv. 006, Kathryn Schaub, played by Tessa Martinez, Adv. 003, and Irene Rudolph, played by Vivian Zagotta, Adv. 000. The character Irene began showing signs of illness, mostly jaw pain, and died short after. Her friends Grace and Kathryn started to investigate what happened to her as they started falling ill too. As they try to get better, they come in contact with corrupt doctors (including Dr. Kneff, played by Mario Hernandez, Adv. 204, and Frederick Flinn, played by Tyler O’ Brien, Adv. 909) and slowly realize what caused their illness: radium poisoning. As they attempt to sue the U.S. Radium Company with the help of the Consumer’s League, lead by Ms. Katherine Wiley (played by Molly Furlong, Adv. 906) they must also deal with the press trying to make money off of their story without ever helping them. The reporters in this play (played by Halima Lat, Adv. 102, and Jonathan Murray, Adv. 105) function as transitonitory characters, who help provide background information to the story while showing viewers how the “radium girls” were perceived by the public.
We also see the perspective of those who own the dial-painting business. Arthur Roeder (played by Daniel Newgarden, Adv. 108) owns the factory that the girls worked in, and we see him wrestle with his responsibility to the girls throughout the play. The most striking scene of the play occurs when Roeder confesses in private that he did not know the effects of radium, and as he speaks the scene around him changes into a courtroom, showing the audience his confession in court. These quick transitions were one of the highlights of the play. Following this scene, we see Grace winning the lawsuit and the aftermath of the trial. The stress of the trial caused her to break up with her longtime boyfriend, Tom Kreider (Mario Cook, Adv. 904), and leads her to return to one of her hobbies: painting pictures rather than dials.
At the end of the play, after the cast took a bow, the underclassmen called up the seniors to celebrate their last fall play on the Northside stage. Gifts from the rest of the cast were given to recognize the hard work of five seniors: Molly McQuillan, Adv. 901, Cook, Furlong, O’Brien, and Chilson.
Although the play has been produced in a relatively short period of time, the actors’, crew, and managers’ hard work has clearly paid off in the performance.