Review: ‘These Shining Lives’ at South Park Theatre


Plaudits go to the South Park Theatre for taking on this difficult play about American history by playwright and screenwriter Melanie Marnich. Known for her work on the HBO series Big Love, Marnich has also written plays produced at leading regional theaters in America, off-Broadway, and London.

Now she comes to the South Park Theatre’s cozy stage close to the fairgrounds, not far from the U.S. Bureau of Mines laboratory in Bruceton, which studied the hazards of deep mining.

These Shining Lives is about another occupation hazard – radium, once an element in watches and clocks that made them glow in the dark. It also made the workers in these factories glow in the dark from the radiation destroying their bodies.

Marnich dramatizes the lives of four women at the Radium Dial Co., outside Chicago, starting in the 1920s, who painted numbers on the clocks after dipping their brushes in radium paint.

First as a work “family” and later as suffering victims of radium, the quartet – Catherine (Samantha Hawk), Charlotte (Danette Pemberton), Frances (Johanna Lefebvre), and Pearl (understudy Lauren Connolly) – find no solutions to their failing health from the factory boss played by Michael Phelps and Catherine’s husband played by Michael Church. When the women finally sued the company during the Depression, they were ostracized by the community and the press, accused of malingering and money-grubbing. It took many legal battles before the women achieved a modest settlement.

These Shining Lives is a talky play that often bogs down in strained speeches, facts, and pathos. Director Barbara Burgess-Lefebvre and the hard-working cast deserve credit for pushing the action ahead despite the resistance of Marnich’s heavy script.

Alex Kepler designed a workable set in cramped quarters, and Samantha Magill put together a vivid sound design. Annabel Lorence did the period costumes.


South Park Theatre’s production of Melanie Marnich’s These Shining Lives has performances through Aug. 12, Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. For tickets, visit: https://keystone.profiledevelopers.com/fmi/webd/Stellar%20Tickets

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