|Irene (Kayli Smith, left), Kathryn (Sydney Harmon) and Grace (Caitlyn Kyong) paint watch dials with radium in "Radium Girls." (Foothill College Theatre Arts)|
Covering up. Making shady deals. Caring more about the corporate bottom line than employees’ well- being or the environment.
Sound familiar? Of course it does, but the events in D.W. Gregory’s “Radium Girls” happened about a century ago.
Presented by Foothill College Theatre Arts and based on actual events, the story begins during World War I. Employees painting watch dials with radium to make them glow in the dark for easy reading by U.S. soldiers begin falling ill with a mysterious, fatal disease.
These employees, including Grace Fryer (Caitlyn Kyong), Kathryn Schaub (Sydney Harmon) and Irene Rudolph (Kayli Smith) experience problems that begin with bloody mouths and tooth pain leading to their jaws rotting away.
At the time, radium was believed to be a miracle cure touted by Dr. Marie Curie (Day Armstrong). However, studies determined radium had caused the employees’ illness, but their employer, U.S. Radium Corp., didn’t release those studies.
Because they were so ill, several employees died and the others lost their jobs. Grace, believing radium was the issue, filed a complaint and eventually sued with the help of Kathryn Wiley (Jackie Roach).
Lawyers for U.S. Radium kept stalling in the hopes that the employees would die before their case was tried.
They also offered a paltry cash settlement, while a tabloid newspaper offered $250,000 for the exclusive rights to their story. Though conflicted, Grace refused both despite urging by her mother (Valerie Allen) and her fiancé, Tom (Osmanthus Lynch), to accept them.
Along with Grace, the other central character is Arthur Roeder (Matt Brown). At first he believed wholeheartedly in radium, but as he became aware of its terrible effects, he was torn between protecting his company’s bottom line and his own moral principles.
Well directed by Tom Gough, many in Foothill’s cast of more than 20 students and community members portray several characters.
With such a mix of experience, the acting is uneven at times, though earnest.
The simple set by Yusuke Soi, costumes by R. Dutch Fritz and lighting by Bruce McLeod complement the production. However, the sound design by Max Stanylov doesn’t overcome the need for better projection by some actors.
Thus some dialogue is hard to discern, especially given the play’s episodic structure. On the other hand, a large clock with projections of the time and place is helpful.
Overall, though, the play is absorbing as it tells a little known but true chapter in American history. It’s worth seeing.
Running about two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission, “Radium Girls” will continue through June 12 in Foothill College’s Lohman Theatre, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills.
For tickets and information, call (650) 949-7360 or visit https://foothill.edu/theatre/productions/radium-girls.html.