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‘Let it Glow’: PAO’s Radium Girls Takes the Stage

RGThree factory workers tasked with painting fluorescent watch dials employ a certain technique to finish the job—by licking the brush tips to keep a fine point when painting.

But what they and none of their superiors realize is that the radium in fluorescent paint is highly dangerous and, because of the workers ingesting the radium, their mouths—and their jaw bones in particular—are slowly deteriorating.

And so are their life spans.

This is the story of Suffolk University’s latest Performing Arts Office show Radium Girls, written by D.W. Gregory and director Courtney O’Connor. This is a different type of play, so to speak, for three reasons. First, only two actors are cast as just one character. Next, the play employs an open set, referred to as ‘Brechtian’ theater, named after German playwright Bertolt Brecht, where the actors can be seen by the audience through the wings—to ground the show itself.

However, in this particular case, the style proves to be nothing more than distracting.

Lastly, the show is unique because of how many times the ‘fourth wall’ is broken. The fourth wall refers to the actual audience watching the show, and when it is broken the actors are communicating directly with the audience, overtly recognizing them and making their presence known to the actors on stage.

This occurs when the two news reporters in the show (senior Marissa Musumeci and junior Clayton Nickell) literally walk down the aisles shouting their newest reports directly to the audience, and when one of junior Bobby Zupkofska’s characters, a salesman for Radithor—a medicine made with distilled water and a small amount of radium—pitches his product to the audience.

When it comes to the multicasting of certain actors in this show, such as Zupkofska’s three characters and sophomore Christina Twombly’s two—one of which is famed scientist Marie Curie—it seemed as though some actors throughout the show had a difficulty expressing themselves as different people even though, when interviewed, certain members of the cast mentioned taking time during each rehearsal to practice walking and vocal techniques that helped with the ability to come across as different people throughout the show.

An interesting aspect about this show is the fact that two Suffolk University faculty members were cast in Radium Girls. Theater professor Caitlin Langstaff and Assistant Director of Peer Services Tim Brown were the two. When we asked four members of the cast about appearing in a show with someone who they may have had as an acting professor or advisor, Twombly mentioned she had Langstaff as a professor last year and, even though she had just one scene with her, she was so surprised by how “into her part” she was, and how she would “effortlessly add details at last minute into her acting,” which would deepen her performance and ultimately resulted in one of the most well-acted, albeit smallest, roles in the show.

Freshman actors, Julia Lorello and Carla McDonough, both play two of the actual Radium Girls—among other smaller roles—in the show. In response to what their feelings were upon being cast in a show that included two seniors and two faculty members, they both expressed feelings of shock, surprise and overall excitement.

Lorello expressed how the upperclassmen appeared “daunting at first” but ultimately were very welcoming and the group as a whole became very close throughout the process. They also mentioned a lot of tension-relievers and jokes that the cast came up with in order to deal with the dark nature of the play, such as a musical adaptation of a piece from Disney’s Frozen, billed “Let it Glow” by Lorello and McDonough. Some of the cast, mainly Zupkofska, mentioned getting emotional at times watching fellow actors perform some of the more intense moments in the show. One specific intense moment was when one of the radium girls/female lead Grace Fryer—played by Krystin Schmelzer—has a nightmare brought on by her coworkers at the factory dying and her own life nearing death.

The three girls steal the show in this scene. Lorello, McDonough and Schmeltzer shine with their intensity and raw emotion in that one moment.

We wondered what brought the actors to this show and why they auditioned in the first place, and they all had varying responses. Zupkofska mentioned how mainly here at Suffolk, he has only had opportunities to express his comedic side (as demonstrated by last fall’s FAB! or whatever… and this spring’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and he was looking for a chance to express his dramatic side.

Lorello mentioned that, in high school, the Drama Club was her main friend group and was where she had most of her fun in school; therefore, naturally, going into college she “looked for the same type of group,” which she seems to be the PAO.

Twombly stated how she enjoys performing for the PAO, which she has been doing since she was a freshman. It was for this reason that, when she heard the opportunity of Radium Girls, she went for it.

Another shining star in the show was senior Jake Athyal, who plays Mr. Arthur Roeder, the antagonist of the girls who face most of the backlash with the actual fatal effects of radium. He has an unwavering command of the stage that takes one in and forces belief that he is really facing these struggles.

If there was any aspect that the Brecht theatre reinforced recognition of the actor, in all the best ways, it was Athyal’s heated scenes.

Overall, even with some great scenes and performances, the play ultimately falters, both due to a lacking direction, or inability to keep the show engaging and lively enough from the script to the stage. Sitting in the seats of the C. Walsh Theatre, we found ourselves losing focus and getting distracted—either from a scene that was dragging on, or the ineffective use of the Brechtian style.

In addition to this, the inability for some actors to manage multiple characters throughout the show unfortunately gave the performance a feeling of inauthenticity. If the play had, perhaps, been more exciting and engaging in terms of content, it might have shined like the substance the play revolves around.

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