When “These Shining Lives” opens at the University of Colorado Boulder Nov. 14 it will have special resonance: The curtain will lift just 10 miles from the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant, where controversy still rages over radioactive contamination.
TV writer (“Big Love”) and playwright Melanie Marnich’s 2010 play follows the lives of four women who are contaminated with radiation while painting watch faces at a factory near 1920s Chicago. The story is based on the actual experiences of women who successfully sued a similar company after some were stricken with cancer.
“They were told the radium was harmless,” says director Elizabeth Dowd, the 2013-14 Roe Green Visiting Artist in the Department of Theatre and Dance. “They were dipping the brushes in radium and then putting them in their mouths to keep the tips pointed. They unwittingly ingested so much radium that they began to glow in the dark.”
Yet the play is much more than a tragedy. It’s about women who stepped out into the world when it wasn’t the norm and then, when challenged, found courage to make a difference. It’s also about the powerful bonds of friendship they forge and the evanescence of time.
“It’s not a fairy tale, though it starts like one,” narrator Catherine says. “It’s not a tragedy, though it ends like one.”
Marnich based the play in part on court records from the women’s successful lawsuit, which helped bring worker protection to the fore of American society and politics.
At a time when some laws protecting workers are being challenged, “These Shining Lives” is a powerful testament.
“A lot of people recognize these laws exist but don’t know to whom we owe them,” says Dowd, who played Sister Aloysius in the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s 2010 production of “Doubt.” “But it’s not didactic; it’s a work of creative nonfiction with truly vivid characters who are warm, witty, and incredibly brave.”
The CU production will feature a large cast on the indoor University Theatre stage and projections to locate scenes in time.
“These Shining Lives”
By Melanie Marnich
Directed by Elizabeth Dowd, 2013-14 Roe Green Visiting Artist
Where: University Theatre, University of Colorado Boulder
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14, 15, 16, 19, 20 and 21; 2 p.m. Nov. 17
Tickets: $17 general admission; $15 CU students; $5 high-school students
Box Office: 303-492-8181; or go to http://theatredance.colorado.edu