BWW Reviews: Gripping True Story of RADIUM GIRLS is Muddied by Poor Writing, Directing, and Acting
Injustice in the workplace is a common thread in U.S. history. It's sad, but true. There are countless stories of workers being mistreated by their employers, and some of those stories have greatly impacted employment legislation.
One of the most important and interesting stories of workplace mistreatment is the story of the Radium Girls. From 1917 to 1926, radium was all the rage. Radium, a material extracted from carnotite ore, was used in many different products, including glow-in-the-dark paint used on watches. Female factory workers at the U.S. Radium Corporation would apply the paint with brushes, and when the brushes would lose their shape, they'd lick the brushes to give them a fine point, as instructed by their employer. Though the women were told that radium was harmless, they began to show signs of illness from ingesting the toxin. One of the most common symptoms was necrosis of the jaw, basically a rotting of the bone and other tissues. One of the victims, Grace Fryer, decided to sue and was soon joined by four other workers. Their case inspired new government regulations regarding labor safety and was the first time individual workers sued a corporation for damages.
While the true story of the Radium Girls may be extraordinarily interesting, D.W. Gregory's attempt to dramatize their tale is tediously dull and uninspired. Sadly the Austin-based Paradox Players aren't able to make much of Gregory's troublesome play, either.
What makes Gregory's text so problematic is it's pedestrian, paint-by-numbers approach. She manages to provide the facts and timeline of the case, but that's about it. There's no desire to create interesting characters and no desire to use the case in a way that says something poignant or compelling about employment in the United States. You keep expecting Gregory to say something important about the case and its significance, but the moment never comes. There isn't even a climactic confrontation between our hero, Grace Fryer, and her antagonist, the President of U.S. Radium. I'm assuming that showdown never happened in real life, either, but this is the theatre; the truth can and should be bent a little if it serves the story.
Gary Payne's direction unfortunately does nothing to mask the problems of the text. At times, his directing enhances them. Like Gregory's writing, Payne's stagnant staging does little, if anything, to develop characters or relationships.
Payne's cast is, largely, just as unexciting. The lead character of Grace Fryer should be an underdog and unexpected hero we can root for and sympathize with. Instead, in the hands of actress Rebecca Corso, she comes off whiney and lifeless with a monotone delivery. Brady Kickhaefer similarly struggles to make anything of the character of Arthur Roeder, the President of U.S. Radium and Fryer's antagonist. While Roeder struggles to balance his duties to his employees and his duties to his shareholders, Kickhaefer doesn't bring that struggle to the surface and offers up a rather one-note performance. The only member of the cast who makes any sort of positive impression is Julie Linnard. There's a street-smart quality to her take on Kathryn, Grace's friend and co-worker, and she's a chameleon as she steps into a multitude of other supporting and cameo roles.
RADIUM GIRLS, produced by Paradox Players, closed Sunday, June 29th. For information on the Paradox Players, please visit www.paradoxplayers.org