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'Radium Girls' brought to light in MainStage play

February 10, 2010

The ASU Herberger Institute School of Theatre and Film unveils "These Shining Lives" as the next installment of its MainStage "Season of Science and Mystery."

"These Shining Lives" weaves fiction and fact as it recounts the lives of four young women in 1920s Chicago, each of whom contracts radium poisoning while working at Radium Dial Company.

The women earned about eight cents per dial to hand paint a compound of radium and phosphorous onto watch faces. Although company scientists and administrators were aware of the radium hazards, they encouraged the girls to tip the camelhair paintbrushes between their lips to keep a firm point on the brushes.

In the opening scenes, the young women are giddy with the stirrings of early feminism – able to earn their own paychecks and explore roles other than wife and mother. The play presents poignant scenes of the women bonding over their dials, and later, after they become ill, highlights their friendship and support as they band together to fight the company’s negligence. Their case ultimately won its argument before the U.S. Supreme Court and captured national headlines, which dubbed them the "Radium Girls.”

“The play is certainly about this terrible tragedy, but it is ultimately about the courage and camaraderie of these young women,” said William Partlan, associate professor of directing in the School of Theatre and Film. “The triumph of their spirits and the friendship and love they showed each other is the real message of this play.”

"These Shining Lives" was written by Melanie Marnich and has been staged at noted professional theaters across the country. It runs at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 26–27, March 4–6 and March 10–12, and 2 p.m., March 7, at the Lyceum Theatre, 901. S. Forest Mall, on the ASU Tempe campus. Cost is $7–$22 but half-price tickets are available on the First Friday of any MainStage season production; ASU faculty and staff receive special rates.

For more information call the Herberger Institute box office, (480) 965-6447, the School of Theatre and Film, (480) 965-5337 or visit