These Shining Lives a perfect vehicle for International Women’s Day

The Cast of These Shining Lives (l-r) Malcolm B. Rodgers, Sarah Williams, Jazimine Pierce, Carly Van Liere, Jessica Dahlgren and Frank Stornaiuolo at Ross Valley Players thru March 31,2019

These Shining Lives: Drama by Melanie Marnich. Directed by Mary Ann Rodgers. Ross Valley Players, Barn Theatre – 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Ross, CA. 415-456-9555, ext. 1 or visit  March 8 –31, 2019

These Shining Lives a perfect vehicle for International Women’s Day. Rating: ★★★☆☆

Scheduling plays for theatre production usually takes place at least a year before a cast is selected. The auspicious opening night for Ross Valley’s Players’ (RVT) These Shining Lives fell on March 8 that was celebrated as International Women’s Day.  Whether it was a judicious choice or quirk of fate it was perfect since the major characters are based on real women who were instrumental in the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that safeguards health and safety in the work place.  But that is the end of play and there is much that happens in this two hour staging (with an intermission) that will stir your intellect, having you cheering for the protagonists while a knot develops in your mid-section.

In 1920s there was a Radial Dial Company in Ottawa, Illinois where women were hired to paint powdered radium on the numbers to make them luminescent. The mostly female work force moistened the tips of their brushes between their lips and with each application apparently ingested a small amount of the radioactive powder. Within the play it is suggested that there was an unwritten competition to see who painted the most number of clock faces per day. Brassy Charolette (Sarah Williams) counted 139 and new hire Catherine (Jessica Dahlgren) mentions 141. There is no comment of the output by the other two protagonists Pearl (Carly Van Liere) and Frances (Jazmine Pierce).

The dangers of radium ingestion initially may not have been known but when each of the women began having symptoms that led to fragile teeth, bone destruction, impaired immunity, infections and cancer the company placed profits before the well-being of their workers. Trips to the factory doctor were met with indifference and treatment suggested was aspirin! A devastating one line comment: “A company doctor takes care of the company.”

The initial play was written to be one act 90 minutes long. MVP and director Mary Ann Rodgers have inserted an intermission probably because some of the scenes are devastating and the audience would appreciate a respite from some very shocking dialog and the character deterioration portrayed by the four very competent women.

The construction of the play is a bit problematic and starts with lead protagonist Catherine delivering a monolog before stepping back into the action. Although it is a 10 character play Jessica Dahlgren is the only one with a single role. Within the first “act” author Melanie Marnich creates fully rounded characters and each actor is to be admired for their interpretations giving verisimilitude and individuality to their roles. A major crisis revolves around the decision to sue the company that is not received well by the Ottawa inhabitants who are dependent on the income the “company” has provided them and the women are labeled as “money grabbers.”.

Although this is a “women’s play” and our four “heroines” earn their accolades, it is the men Malcom D. Rodgers and Frankie Stornaiulo who each switch between three roles making each distinctive without confusion.

Throughout the early scenes director Rodgers uses the three acting areas almost to perfection but loses control when Pierce, Van Liere and Williams are asked to jump in an out of other roles causing confusion rather than clarity.  Although Malcolm B. Rodgers’ set design is amazing the use of the large props in those penultimate scenes are cumbersome and those scenes might be better served performed in a stylistic manner.

If you are familiar with the true story that is vividly enacted in this RVP production be assured that the refreshing of the events that led to our “shining ladies” winning their case after six trials will be further etched in your mind.

CAST: Jessica Dahlgren – Catherine; Jazmine Pierce – Frances, Reporter 2, An Official; Sarah Williams – Charlotte, Reporter 1; Carly Van Liere – Pearl, Judge 2; Frankie Stornaiuolo – Tom Donahue, Dr. Rowntree, Dr. Dalitshe; Malcolm B. Rodgers – Mr. Reed, Company Doctor, Judge, Leornard Grossman; Lucien Crane – Son Voice; Sybella Crane – Daughter Voice.

PRODUCTION TEAM: Mary Ann Rodgers – Director; Madge Grahn – Stage Manager; Maureen O’Donoghue – Production Manager; Malcolm B. Rodgers – Set Designer; Tina Johnson – Lighting Design; Tom O’Brien – Properties Designer; Billie Cox – Lighting Design & Projection; Michael Berg – Costume Designer; Richard Squeri – Intimacy Coach; Halina – Board Operator; Eleanor Prugh – Volunteer Coordinator; Karin Conn – Public Relations; Gregg Le Blanc – Photography; Mark Shepard – Graphic Design; Suzie Hughes – Program Consultant.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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