This review is by Nancy Sasso Janis' son C.J. Janis, with the help of his two great friends Katherine Ross and Gillian Greene.
The students in World History at the Waterbury Arts Magnet School (WAMS) were invited to walk down the street from their campus to a performance of Radium Girls presented by Shakesperience Productions, Inc. Shakesperience is located at 117 Bank Street in Waterbury. Director Emily Mattina was given the script of Radium Girls in 2006 by "a bright-eyed and talented Shakesperience student," who also happened to be a WAMS student. Ms. Mattina felt compelled to bring the play to her stage, because she comes from a family with a "strong scientific bent" and because of the strong local connection. The Radium Girls, who fell ill after working with radium in watch factories, were largely from Connecticut, New Jersey and Illinois companies. This play by D. W. Gregory tells their story.
Caitlin White plays the lead girl, "Grace." Nat Angstrom was the lead guy Roeder and a clerk. Offstage voices were provided by WATR's Tom Chute ("Lovesick Cowboy") and Barbara Davitt ("Widow.")
Adding to the theme of radium, the stage was glowing with recessed ceiling lighting with black light filters over them, illuminating glow paint upon the clock painting on the floor, splattered on the worker girl's dresses, and painted on the girl's faces at the beginning. This gave a literal glow and a feeling to the performance that tied everything to the problem of the toxic radium. The costumes were extremely well done and very authentic. "They were wonderfully vintage with an added touch of charm, making you feel as though you were in a different era," says Gill. They had a wonderful array of costumes from suspenders to fur coats. The costumer pushed the limits to be realistic.
Although the middle of the stage was very minimal with only 4 cubes, it made you use your imagination in a good way and still made you understand. The set otherwise was pretty detailed with two elevated areas, one with 3 chairs and a picture of a black and white city, authentic to the era. The other had two very old and real lamps providing real light (as opposed to the stage lighting), a chair and a classic real piano that was actually played in the last scene as background music. The coolest part about the studio is that I was so close up to see the actors and actresses and they had some very creative interactions with breaking the fourth wall while staying in character and still staying believable. For example, on my side there were glass cabinets with props in them that the performers grabbed out. Even though they were right next to me and behind me coming into the audience, it was still believable. Another creative example was the use of the performers coming in through the main door as a stage entrance and even at one point one of the characters angrily banged on the door in relation to the show. Many of the students watching didn't know this and were scared by this.
The props were very good, especially the camera that the newswoman was using, the radium water bottles, and the watches and paintbrushes. There was even a reference, which Gill pointed out to me, that all of the medical books and pieces of paper were a bright neon green referencing again the radium.
The plot was very, very, moving and very educational for our history class in my opinion. Every actor or actress pretty much had at least one other part that he or she played. Katherine says that "even though the cast played multiple parts, every character was different in a way." This was definitely shown not only in change of costume but of complete personality and in some cases accents. I think without a little prior knowledge of this situation in history it would be a hard to follow plot, but I found it very accurate to what I suspected the hardships and trials of this time era were in this situation. The storyline was "rich with detail and irony" according to Gill. "It makes you sympathetic when you think of the life and suffering of these girls that actually happened. The plot has you cheering, as well as bringing puzzlement to your mind."
The actors were phenomenal in my opinion, especially performing in the round and up so close. "Even though there wasn't a lot of set to work with, the acting of these characters pushed the idea of the story and staging very well," Katherine says. As for the plot, I don't really want to go into too much into detail, because it is very intricate and moving, but it follows the lives of these girls standing up for their rights and causing a revolution during a revolution. This show was a very, very good, and I definitely think it was as good educationally as it was as a good performance. These actors put a lot of work and dedication into this performance and it definitely shows. Radium Girls was an excellent performance and one of the best dramatic dialogue shows I've personally seen.
Radium Girls continues through October 28.