The Chamberlayne Actors Theatre's production of “Radium Girls” is a spooky historical drama about the gruesome deaths of young women factory workers exposed to radium in the 1920s and 30s. This play has got everything a historical health scandal could offer: big business cover-ups, profiteering doctors and lawyers, manipulative media and deteriorating victims who struggle to live long enough to be acknowledged. Playwright D. W. Gregory does an excellent job balancing the courtroom drama with the emotional stories and sideshow antics of the press to keep the audience engaged through some data-heavy scenes.
Director Amy Berlin's focus is clearly on the radium girls' story. She utilizes a sparse set, minimal props and lighting effects, and costumes that suggest the era rather than depict it. These choices allow the audience to fully follow the intricate string of events. The history in this play is so important to its telling that an interesting timeline of radium and case-related events is included in the program.
Actress Michele Morris plays sympathetically without being pathetic as Grace, the main protagonist. Jeff Clevenger shows off his accent and acting versatility as he shines in five different characters, most engagingly as the unflinching defense lawyer, Edward Markley. Jonathan Hardison also puts in distinct quick-changing, multiple-character performances.
“Radium Girls” makes for an interesting night out but be warned: After seeing this play you will be left with the unnerving question, “What is the equivalent of radium in our lives today?”
“Radium Girls” plays on selected dates at Chamberlayne Actors Theatre, 319 N. Wilkinson Road, through April 11 For information call 262-9760 or go to cattheatre.com.