The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Radium Girls’ premieres at Saint Mary’s

| Wednesday, November 6, 2013


With just three day’s worth of rehearsal remaining, director Richard Baxter changed his vision for the upcoming Saint Mary’s fall production, “Radium Girls.” Something was simply not working in the last scene, and instead of making minor adjustments, he threw out the ending altogether, Baxter said.  

“What you see is nothing I set out to direct … So much changes when you get in the [stage] space,” Baxter said. “You’re constantly changing things … That’s what I love about this.”

Interpreting the script by award-winning playwright D.W. Gregory, Baxter said he directs a cast of 15 Saint Mary’s students ranging from first-years to seniors along with several of the College’s male professors and two male community members to tell a compelling story of young factory workers who begin a campaign for justice after being sickened by radium-laced paint on the job in 1920’s New Jersey.

The play, which will premiere Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Little Theater in the Moreau Center for the Arts, takes place over a period of 20 years with a majority of its focus in the 1920’s during a time when radium was considered a miracle substance believed to cure cancer and other illnesses when in fact the element had the opposite effect, Baxter said.  

“Directing this play makes me think of two things:  It makes me think, ‘How do we apply the ‘Golden Rule,’ how do we really treat each other the way we want to be treated?’ The second is, ‘What kind of radium products do we have now?'” Baxter said.   

Radium is one of several prevalent themes present in all aspects of the show, including the colors in the costumes, costume designer Melissa Bialko said.

“The things that I really tried to visualize were simply the colors of radium and what you’d stereotypically think of radium to be, so it’s sort of hitting the audience over the head, but it’s fun as well,” Bialko said. “There’s a lot of yellows and greens, and then there are supplemental blues and purples and neutral colors.”  

Baxter and theatre professor Katie Sullivan chose to stage “Radium Girls” after considering several other works. The selection process involved keeping a thematic four-year cycle in mind in order to make sure students coming into the theatre program are exposed to a variety of styles, time periods, playwrights and venues. 

“As I read [“Radium Girls”], it filled all the criteria that we had set out.  We wanted something that would involve as many female actors as we could find, something that wasn’t too technically demanding, something that we think we can costume [and] something we could produce in a small space,” Baxter said.  

“The big thing is we wanted a good story, something that was compelling and interesting.  At the end of that process, we felt this was the best choice.  It was very cinematic.  There are a lot of short scenes that are tightly woven.  It’s a compelling story.  It’s about social justice.  It has a lot of female characters, the time period works, [and] that’s how we decided to do the play.”

Baxter was already familiar with “Radium Girls” because of his personal connections with the playwright through his wife, Baxter said.  

“D. [W. Gregory] had sent me a script last year to see if I had any interest in it, and I did, but I didn’t have any venue for it,” Baxter said.  

Senior theatre major and stage manager Molly B. Goodman said she had no knowledge of the play prior to its selection, but her subsequent research led her to also find connections within its context.

“I actually have family from New Jersey so I talked to my grandparents that live out there about what was happening, and they remembered people talking about it when they were growing up, so it was interesting to hear that,” Goodman said.

Baxter said the show’s success derives from crew members’ extra efforts. 

 “You have to be selfless enough to say what’s better for [the] play, what’s better for the crew, what’s better for the cast, what’s better for the audience, and if you do that then you can really collaborate well,” Baxter said. 

The play will run Thursday through Sunday, and Gregory will take part in a panel discussion Friday titled, “Radium Girls, Opening the Doors of Justice” about the labor issues explored in the play. The talk, coordinated by the College’s justice education program, will take place at 1 p.m. in Welsh Parlor of Haggar College Center. 

Contact Emilie Kefalas at ekefal01@saintmarys.edu