“Radium Girls” begins run at Rafters Theatre

"Radium Girls" plays at Rafters Theatre from February 23rd through March 4th (Photo Courtesy of Millersville University).

Josh Rittberg

Staff Writer

Radium Girls, which plays at Rafters Theatre from February 23rd– March 4th, tells the true story of three girls in Orange County NJ, who are employed and cheated by the radium corporation. The girls work as painters of watch dials, and eventually they become sick from the overexposure to radium.  It may sound like a grim topic for a play, but in the case of Millersville’s production, this is a story about hope and humanity in dire times.

Although this is an ensemble piece, the play focuses on a radium worker named Grace Fryer, who used her position as a victim of the corporation to speak out for the rights of women and the ignored. The play spans ten years, and in that time we see Grace transform from a shy, naive teenager to a strong and powerful woman.

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Bryce Wall who plays Grace in Millersville’s production said that “Immediately I just wanted to be her voice.” Since the character is based off a real person, Wall found through research that the dialogue from the play in some cases is lifted directly from the real Radium Girls trial transcripts. Although this play takes place in the early 1900s, Wall hopes that through the character of Grace that girls will “realize that they have just as much a right to have an opinion and to have something to say.”

One of the piece’s most complex characters is easily Arthur Roeder. As the president of the radium corporation, Roeder gets a lot of blame for the fate of the girls and makes many terrible decisions himself. Jacob Dickens, who plays Roeder, believes that “The gravity of the situation does get to him eventually, and his sense of guilt throughout keeps him grounded as a character.” This also leaves room for the audience to wonder whether he is a good or bad person. For Dickens, finding sympathy in this man who sits back to watch, and at many points, allows this chaos occur is a welcome challenge.

As an ensemble piece, Radium Girls has some cast members as in the case of Dylan Kranch who plays the girls’ German doctor, Von Schlocky and Raymond Berry who is the girls’ lawyer. Early in the creative process, the production’s director, Joanna Underhill did character games to give the actors a background for the people they would be portraying. Although playing two parts is not easy by any means, Kranch was excited to take on these parts and enjoys playing both “The seedy lawyer and the more naturally kind doctor.”

A committed cast begins with an equally as dedicated creative team. Both Joanna Underhill, the production’s director, and Anthony Lascoskie Jr., the production’s costume designer, are trying to make this rich and fast-moving story clear and accessible to contemporary audiences. Underhill says that the “actors have been doing the set changes and all know what is coming next.”  The actors’ confidence and respect for the material also helps the audience get sucked into the cinematic nature of the play.

The lighting and set also contributed to this production in bringing a sense of mood and atmosphere to the creative elements. Anthony Lascoskie Jr., as the costume designer, made a choice “to give everyone a base costume.” This makes the transitions between characters easier for the actors and the audience so that there is still a central look for each character.

Radium Girls which plays at The Rafters Theatre from February 23rd through March 4th is a suddenly timely play for its thoughtful commentary and messages on women’s voices in society and standing up for what they believe in.

Dylan Kranch says that “if we took away the period costumes and references and transplanted it to 2018, it would work just as well.” With the playwright of Radium Girls, DW Gregory, even coming to campus on March 3rd and 4th, to give a post-show talk back and a workshop on playwriting, this production is sure to be one that audiences will not want to miss.