“These Shining Lives” is the tragic tale of four women who were knowingly poisoned by their employers when working with radium-based paint to paint the faces on watches. This story takes place in the early to late 1920s in Chicago and Ottawa, Illinois. Catherine Donohue, played by senior Brianna Lugibihl, is wonderfully portrayed as an innocent wife and mother of two who yearns to make her own money. Her husband, Tom Donohue, played by Lucas Augustine, is overwhelmingly supportive yet skeptical of his wife’s decision. However, Brianna and Lucas do an amazing job of showing the true love connection between Catherine and her husband and the struggles they go through to keep their family’s feet on the ground.
Despite financial struggles, Catherine finds positivity in her new career. Her new coworkers, Charlotte, Pearl and Frances ultimately become her best friends. They worked everyday painting nearly 200 watch faces for eight cents per watch. These circumstances changed the way working women were perceived in the 1920s.Emily Short (Pearl), Brista Drake (Charlotte) and Carrie Blust (Frances) bring life and humor to such a dire story. These women create a bond that is stronger than the unfortunate situation they are in.
As the story progresses, the women gradually begin to notice their health declining. They all see the company doctor who simply prescribes them aspirin and tells them they have a case of the “nerves”. Their boss, Mr. Reed, played by Ian Mount, tells the women that their cases are nothing to worry about. Not convinced, the women seek out a professional doctor in the city who will tell them the truth. Catherine, Pearl, Frances and Charlotte all have extreme cases of radium poisoning. The despair of this moment could not have been expressed any better than how these wonderful Bluffton University actresses portrayed it.
This news doesn’t stop the “Radium Girls” from protesting their mistreatment. Conclusively, their case was won six times. Catherine Donohue was awarded over $5,000 from Radium Dial Company. Sadly, Mrs. Donohue died 21 days after she won her trial.
Bluffton University’s cast presents a wonderful rendition of “These Shining Lives” that will be sure to tug at your heartstrings. Two more shows will be presented in Ramseyer Auditorium Nov. 5 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 6 at 2:30 p.m. Reserved tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for senior citizens. Bluffton students are admitted free and can receive Arts and Lecture Credit for attending.