‘Radium Girls’ Glows with Talent

Courtesy of Joe MazzaLoyola's Department of Fine and Performing Arts' latest show, "Radium Girls," follows young women championing for workers' rights in 1920s America.

As the house lights dim and the sound of light ‘20s swing slowly fades, audience members likely won’t be prepared for the journey ahead of them. 

“Radium Girls” follows the story of the higher-ups in the U.S. Radium Corporation in the late 1910s and early 1920s, as well as the young women who they negligently poisoned with radioactive materials. Grace Fryer (Sophie Duque) is the first to insist something isn’t right when her coworkers at the corporation’s watch factory start getting ill and dying from a mysterious malady, and she refuses to back down in an intense legal battle for financial compensation.

It’s hard to say enough about the quality of this production of “Radium Girls,” and it’s well worth seeing during its short run at Loyola. It’s an exploration of injustice, determination, love and death. 

As a character, Grace’s tenacity and cleverness are admirable. She’s constantly willing to call the Corporation out for hiding behind legalistic nonsense and bluffs. She faces life with pride, looking fearlessly into the faces of the executives who poisoned her and refusing to be silenced. 

Duque delivers a vulnerable and honest portrayal of a too-young woman who knows she’s dying. Although the most historic elements of the play relate to Fryer’s legal battle with the U.S. Radium Corporation, the emotional core of “Radium Girls” is Grace’s relationship with friends and family. 

Courtesy of Joe Mazza “Radium Girls” runs Oct. 28 to Nov. 7 in the Newhart Family Theatre.

Duncan Corbin plays Tom Krieder, Grace’s boyfriend and later fiancé. Both actors make the push-and-pull of their relationship tangible, as Tom’s inability to reconcile with Grace’s terminal diagnosis inevitably clashes with Grace’s desire to see justice before settling down or letting go. 

Although it’s central to the play, Grace and Tom’s relationship may not even be the most heart-wrenching part. The head of the U.S. Radium Corporation, Anthony Roeder (Will Cheeseman) has perhaps some of the most poignant dialogue, as he begins to experience the denial, remorse and guilt he eventually carries to his grave. 

A brilliant supporting cast brings the world of the show to life, with charming one-off characters who narrate their letters to the “Radium Girls” and reporters who shout their news directly to the audience, and interview audience members as if they were bystanders. 

Due to the artistic choices of the director and allowances made by the play, most of the actors play three or more characters over the course of the show, with quick costume changes cleverly designed by Costume Designer Rachel Healey and other members of the costuming department. 

Each actor managed to bring unique and enthusiastic energy to each character they played, often changing accents, cadence and mannerisms to make the audience feel like every character was played by a different person. They effectively made the world of “Radium Girls” feel densely populated and much larger than what audiences can see on the stage.  

Courtesy of Joe Mazza The DPFA’s latest play is available for viewing in-person and for livestream.

Although much credit ought to be given to D.W. Gregory for her excellent script, it would’ve fallen flat if not for the immersive world the cast and crew create for their audience. Vibrant, period-accurate costuming, dramatic lighting, well-timed sound and beautifully minimalist set design all make the audience feel like they’re in the scene with the actors — and the close, circular design of the Newhart Family Theater adds to the effect. 

Although livestream tickets are available, seeing “Radium Girls” in person is a deeply moving experience — some audience members were even brought to tears by the performance. Although the Department of Fine and Performing Arts has shown it’s possible to bring quality theater to online platforms, it’s immensely refreshing to see live theater again. 

“Radium Girls” proves there are a few things that shouldn’t have a price: truth to oneself, human life and justice. It’s hard to put a price on “Radium Girls” either — it might even be priceless. 

“Radium Girls” runs Oct. 28 to Nov. 7 in the Newhart Family Theatre. Tickets cost $10 for students and $20 for faculty and staff. Livestreaming tickets are available for $10. Tickets are available at the DFPA’s website.

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