The San Jacinto College Department of Theatre and Film recently presented a production of D.W. Gregory's "Radium Girls." The play is a modern drama based on the true story of the women who worked for the U.S. Radium Corporation in the early 1900s.
The play highlights the way men and women in power at the company marginalized young, naive workers by making them believe the self-luminous radioactive paint they were working with was harmless, subsequently leading to the illness and death of countless workers.
"The story is timeless and still goes on today in different forms," said Richard Turner, professor of theatre and film. "Whether it's a poisoned water supply, a cover-up about the impact of concussions in the NFL, or big tobacco, for decades organizations have covered up their knowledge of harm being done."
Sophomore Jacque Lilley — who portrayed Dr. Drinker, one of the doctors who discovered the radium poisoning among the U.S. Radium company's employees — found her experience with the play to be an awakening of the things happening right here in Houston.
"The story is fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time," Lilley said. "I think this is a story that needs to continue to be retold. With everything that happened this year with plant explosions and fires, we don't know what the impact could be on our health in the years to come."
Taking on the role of the main character, Grace Fryer, was sophomore Karen Ascencio. Fryer was only 18 when she took on the role as a radium girl painting clocks and watches with the glow-in-the-dark paint. Eventually, the radium exposure caused her spine to disintegrate, forcing her to wear a steel brace. It was Fryer who led the fight to sue the U.S. Radium Company for their negligence.
"It's so unfortunate that this story isn't more widely known," Ascencio said. "I want people to see our performance and understand the significance of what happened to these women and what is happening today."
While the tone of this production was somber, the San Jacinto College Department of Theatre has also recently performed more light-hearted efforts like "Shrek" and their annual holiday performance of "Santa's Christmas Magic."
"We chose 'Radium Girls' as a production to highlight the phenomenal female talent within the theatre program at the Central Campus," said Jerry Ivins, professor of theatre and film. "The tone of the play is dark, but we have some really exceptional dramatic actresses, and with this play being female heavy, we were able to showcase them really well."
While the department has closed out its 2019-2020 season, you can look for information about its next performances at sanjac.edu/theatre-central.