Inspiring Production of “These Shining Lives” Based on True Story of ‘Radium Girls’ Opens Tonight at CSM’s Brad and Linda Gottfried Theater

October 14, 2022

CSM Alumni Return as Director and Cast

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"These Sining Lives" stars from left are Brenna Prestidge as Charlotte; Hannah Lunczynski as Catherine; Kate Jones as Frances and Charlotte Flade as Pearl.

“This isn’t a fairytale, though it begins like one. This isn’t a tragedy, though it ends like one.”

So opens the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) production of “These Shining Lives,” Melanie Marnich’s play about the “Radium Girls” – the famed female factory workers who contracted radiation poisoning after being told by their bosses that the self-luminous paint they were handling was safe in 1920s Illinois.

In the show’s early scenes, the girl’s gossip, joke, and share secrets as they paint watch faces with a glow in the dark powder for the Radium Dial Company. By the end, they’ve developed deep bonds and been called to stand up for themselves – and other factory workers – in the most extraordinary ways.

"‘These Shining Lives’ is kicking off CSM’s first full live theater season post-COVID this evening with a story that emphasizes issues as pertinent today as they were at the time of the story,” said Associate Dean for Liberal Arts Dr. Stephen Johnson. “The uncertainty of society’s applications of the power of science, the roles of women in the work force, and the public’s perception of the intersections of these themes still occur. We hope that student and community patrons will walk away from this performance with a better sense of some issues that still plague society.”

For Director Brian Donohue ’86, telling a true, but mostly forgotten story from the roaring twenties was part of what drew him to the play. He said he expects the audience will see themselves in the characters and recognize that the issues the characters faced.

“When the play begins, women had just gotten the right to vote,” Donohue noted. “They weren’t taken seriously at work, by their doctors, or even at home. I think a lot of women still feel marginalized in that way.”

Directing this show is a homecoming for Donohue: CSM is was where he discovered his love of the stage as a student, and he was involved in some of the first productions at the Fine Arts Center (FA Building) Brad and Linda Gottfried Theater, doing everything from working the mechanics to make Peter Pan fly to playing the lead in “The Glass Menagerie.”  Though he has remained active in the local theatre community, this is his first show at CSM, and homecoming, since graduating in 1986.

This play is also introducing the community to a new generation of CSM theater students. Hannah Lunczynski is a current CSM student who is playing the lead role of Catherine Donohue in the play. Lunczynski said that she was excited to discover that CSM was staging this play because she often uses a monologue from the 2018 film “Radium Girls,” which is based on the same story, for her auditions.

“This is such a touching story, it’s raw and real and not something that’s well known,” she said. “I hope people leave the theatre remembering that life is precious, and that these are problems we still face today.”

Aaron Johnson ’19 is also returning to the CSM stage to play Catherine’s husband, Tom. The former theatre and dance student said that he’s thrilled to be acting at CSM again.

“This stage has always been such a comfortable place for me,” he said. “Everyone involved in this show has brought amazing energy and such great camaraderie.”

Attendees should pack tissues for the final scenes, but Donohue said that he sees the story as more inspiring than tragic.

“Most of us think of ourselves as ordinary people, just as these women did,” he said. “But they went on to do extraordinary things. I don’t want people to think of it as a sad story, because it’s ultimately an uplifting story about women who fought and overcame odds.”

Performances of “These Shining Lives” will be held at the Brad and Linda Gottfried Theater in the FA Building at the La Plata Campus Friday, Oct. 14, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 15, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 16, at 3 p.m.; Friday, Oct. 21, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 22, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 23, at 3 p.m. All performances are free.

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"These Shining Lives” is presented by special arrangement with Broadway Licensing, LLC, servicing the Dramatists Play Service collection.

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