December 2, 2023

“These Shining Lives” opens in Blackbox Theatre

Elley Cowdell and Jennifer Lopez

Dramatizing the danger women faced in the 1920’s workforce is the premise of USU Eastern’s production of These Shining Lives opening the weekends of Dec. 5-7 and 12-14, in the Central Instructional Building Black Box Theater at 7:30 p.m.

Written by Melanie Marnich, These Shining Lives show women getting a chance to work at a  well-paying job in the 1920s and early 1930s, which was uncharacteristic for the time in the United States.

The job, which seems easy enough for the main characters, is hand painting the hour markings onto different sized watch dials using a radium compound which glows in the dark. The women were paid 8 cents for each watch dial they painted which was more money than most their husbands made. 

The owners of Radium Dial, the company that hires the women to do the painting, tells them there is no evidence that radium is harmful and provides scientific evidence of its health benefits. Located in Otawa, Ill., the company employed 1,000 women who turned out about 4,300 dials each day in the ‘20s and ‘30s.

Within a few years, workers notice their hands start glowing in the dark, but assume it is just from the radium powder used to paint the watch faces. The women develop ailments, including jaw infections and bone pain, but several local doctors tell them that all they need is aspirin, which of course does not help. They become sick and cannot go to work, so eventually get fired.

After years of search, they find a doctor willing to put his name on the line and diagnose the women with radium poisoning. This helps the four-main characters decide to file a lawsuit against Radium Dial.

An attorney, Leonard J. Grossman, agrees to take their case for free. The case goes all the way to the Supreme Court. 

This production is above and beyond what any of the actors have done before. They cranked up their skills to another whole degree, said stage manager Christopher Vlamakis.  

The plot can come across as sad and somber, but in reality, it is the story of hope and friendship.  It has love, happiness and a lot of joking around in it, Vlamakis said. “Plus the type of sadness is not the kind that lingers and the ‘sisterhood’ that is developed by the women is real.” It’s perfect, touching and wistful. . .beautifully tragic. 

Directing the play is Morgan Lund, professional actor, writer, producer, director, teacher and artist for the past 36 years. With strong union affiliations, he has worked with LORT Theatres, film, television, radio, print, small business, corporate America, world-class opera and orchestras, dance companies, theme parks and universities across the United States. 

Besides experience in all aspects of theatre, Lund brings a different point of view for the actors. He lived in the Otawa, Ill., area and connected “life and feelings” to the story from the generations of people who still live there. 

These Shining Lives cast includes Elley Cowdell, Carbonville; Jennifer Lopez, Carbonville; CheyAnn Needles, Cedar City; Aubrey Jorgensen, Price; Hunter Peterson, Gunnison; and Stephen Ewan, Price. 

TheseUSU Eastern theatre assistant professor, Brent Innes produces the production as well as designed the set, props and sound. Hongji (Joy) Zhu designed and sewed the costumes with Curtis Nakai as her assistant.

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