MP Drama Club presents ‘Radium Girls,’ based on a true story

Messenger photo by Theresa Hennis
Owen Phillips and Dani Breen rehearse a scene from Madison-Plains High School’s upcoming production of “Radium Girls.”

(Posted March 11, 2020)

By Theresa Hennis, Staff Writer

If you are a champion of the underdog and appreciate entertainment based on historically true stories, you will enjoy Madison-Plains Drama Club’s presentation of the 60-minute play, “Radium Girls,” with shows set for March 20-22.

The play, by D.W.Gregory, is based on a true story beginning around 1917, about women who worked at the U.S. Radium Corp. factory in Orange, N.J., painting luminescent dials on watches. At the time, not much was known about radium, the dangerous element discovered in 1898 by Marie and Pierre Curie. It was being touted as a miracle drug and cancer cure.

The factory workers would dip their brushes in the radium, then touch the brushes to their lips to keep a sharp point on them in order to paint the tiny lines and numbers on the watch dials. The job was considered glamorous at the time, and the women were even listed in their town directories as artists. The price they paid for their “art” through the ingestion of radium was jaw decay, cancer and, ultimately, death.

One of the characters in the play is based on Grace Fryer, a U.S. Radium Corp. worker who, along with four fellow workers and the help of the National Consumers League, sued the corporation in 1927, leading to safer labor practices.

Some of the students in Madison-Plains’ production of “Radium Girls” were already familiar with the story, having learned about it in science class.

“They didn’t know I was picking this play, and the fact that they had learned about it in their science class made for a nice cross-discipline,” said Ashley Woodard, who serves as director and is an English teacher at Madison-Plains.

Woodard noted that the Drama Club’s winter shows are traditionally known as the “Senior Showcase.”

“I have a slew of extremely talented seniors in this play,” she said.

Among them is senior Dani Breen, who plays Grace.

“I like the part because it’s so dynamic,” Breen said. “Grace has plans and hopes and aspirations, but her health decreases dramatically, and she loses her future with her fiancé. I can relate to her because she is tentative at first, but then she realizes she needs to stand up for what she believes in.”

Senior Owen Phillips plays Arthur Roeder, U.S. Radium Corp. president.

“The role has been a very interesting challenge, a different style,” he said. “People should come see this play because it has a good message that they can take away and think about. I feel like my character is misunderstood, which is fun to play with. There is no black-and-white with this play.”

As for why she chose “Radium Girls,” Woodard said she is attracted to its David vs. Goliath-type of story.

“It’s very important to tell these girls’ story. It’s very relevant to today’s issues, because thematically, the things we think are safe are not always actually safe,” Woodward said. “It will make you think and maybe question some things about society and how we put our trust in big business and science. Sometimes we might need to question things and stand up for the little guy and people we believe in.”

Shows are set for 7 p.m. March 20-21 and 2 p.m. March 22 at Madison-Plains High School, 800 Linson Rd, London. Tickets, which are normally $7, are discounted at $5 for everyone for the entire run of the play, and can be purchased at the high school.

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