“These Shining Lives”: UP Theater puts a spotlight on 20th century women

This show will run from Feb. 21-25 in Mago Hunt Theater

By Amelie Lavallee | February 20, 2024 3:00pm
The narrator Catherine's kitchen table on the set of "These Shining Lives."
Media Credit: Natalie Gordon / The Beacon

You might want to bring a box of tissues when you go see “These Shining Lives” at Mago Hunt Theater this February. 

The play, directed by Professor of Performing and Fine Arts Lezlie Cross, tells the story of a group of close friends known as the Radium Girls, who work at a radium dial factory in the 1920s and 30s in Ottawa, Illinois. 

The girls suffer from radium poisoning as a result of putting the toxic paint in their mouths while painting the dials. 

Together, the Radium Girls aim to hold the company accountable in what became a “keystone case of labor rights in the United States,” according to the University of Portland website. 

Cross sees the play as providing an important spotlight on the role of female solidarity in the workplace.

Director Lezlie Cross records the rehearsal with her phone.
by Natalie Gordon / The Beacon

“[This is] such an incredible story about female friendship and the way that your friends lift you up when you can’t keep going,” Cross said. 

Along with the challenge of putting together a play in a little over a month, the cast of “These Shining Lives” also lost invaluable rehearsal time due to the ice storm in January.

“We had to rehearse over zoom but we couldn’t do it every day because some people didn’t have power,” Cross said. 

Another challenge that plagues the performers is how to honor and do justice to the historical figures they are portraying.

“This is a very important case in terms of legal history because this is one of the first times that employees sued the company they were working for, and it changed workplace laws for the better,” Cross said.  

The four main girls, Catherine, Charlotte, Frances and Pearl, are based on real-life historical women. 

Catherine, the narrator, is a shy and unsure 19-year old when she begins working at the factory. 

“She walks through the world with such grace and strength and never gives up when she's in pain,” senior Mackenzie Binsacca said.

Binsacca emphasizes that Catherine is telling her story to people who are willing to listen and learn from it. 

“I think she struggles between what she wants and what society expects of her, which at that time is a wife and kids and staying at home,” Binsacca said. 

Charlotte, portrayed by junior Moon Santos, is a modern, flashy and outspoken woman. 

“She is the one with the most vulnerability that she’s hiding with that strong, brassy exterior,” Cross said.  

Cross sees the play as not only a historical story, but also a lesson on the importance of safe working conditions, even today. 

“Radium is not the thing that we’re having issues with anymore, but there are still people who are put in very unsafe working conditions,” Cross said.  

However hard the plot may be to digest, the department feels the message is an important one. 

“We want to make sure that people see this as a story that should be told and not ignored,” Beeks said.  

“These Shining Lives” will be performed from Feb. 21-24 at 7:30 p.m. with a final show on Feb. 25 at 2 p.m.

Amelie Lavallee is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at lavallee25@up.edu.