Curtain Call: Emotions glow bright at Eastbound

Eastbound Theatre, Milford: It was a job to die for. Women who landed one of the coveted jobs at the Radium Dial Company in the 1920s were considered lucky. After all, the company not only hired women, but the work was supposedly easy and women could actually earn as much as $8 a week. It’s no wonder protagonist Catherine Donohue (played by Katie DePonte) is elated when she gets hired there. Women during the 1920s and 1930s often looked for work to supplement their husbands’ paychecks. Such was the case for Catherine Donohue and her female coworkers.

Melanie Marnich’s play “These Shining Lives” is a true life story so deeply embedded with emotion that it’s impossible not to feel for the women who so diligently work themselves to death. It’s not hard work that kills them as they carefully paint the dials of watches at the Radium Dial Company. It’s the luminescent paint that kills them with potent radium poisoning.

Catherine prepares the audience for the inevitable with her opening lines. “This isn’t a fairy tale, though it starts like one. It’s not a tragedy, though it ends like one.” And so it does. Catherine is elated that she has been accepted as an employee at the prestigious company where women could earn as much as $8 a week.

What makes this play so special is that it brings to light the case against the company which established legal rights for workers to sue employers. In this case, the five women who sued the company were known as the “Radium Girls.” What was so tragic is that many women who were afraid to go against the company quietly went to their graves.

The Eastbound production points out how neither the women’s boss, Mr. Reed (Geoffrey Gilbert) nor the company’s doctor (Patrick Cornelio) would protect the women. They were devoted to the company. This forced the women, who became horribly ill, to seek a doctor out of town.

Four women and two men comprise the Eastbound Theatre cast directed by Richard Mancini. Patrick Cornelio and Geoffrey Gilbert play multiple roles. Francis (Alecia Coffin) plays the moral compass of the feminine quartet, though too few lines suggest this. Charlotte (Shannon Riccio) plays the tough gal, and Pearl (Amanda Brenner) plays the jokester, who really isn’t funny at all.

Overall, it is the story here that wins the audience over. Some of the acting seems mechanical at times and even though the play was designed to have the cast play multiple roles, when two actors step into the roles of the children, it’s really hard to swallow.

Paige Miglio’s set design functions well, although the scenes in which the actors sit on the floor of this stage are to be seen by audiences in the back rows. Donald Rowe’s lighting works well. Tayna Fedulik-Smith’s sound design and Jacquie Carlson’s costume designs are pleasantly sufficient.

The production runs through Feb. 17. Box office: 203-878-6647.

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: jgrochman@gmail.com.

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