USI Theatre puts on a tear-jerking performance with ‘These Shining Lives’


Photo courtesy of USI Media

Tom comforts Catherine about her diagnosis. “These Shining Lives” tells the true story of the Radium Girls.

Sydney Lawson, Lifestyle Editor

USI Theatre put on its first student-directed show of the 2022-2023 academic year with “These Shining Lives” Nov. 17-20. The production was directed by Amelia Schmitz, senior theatre major, who has always exhibited a standout performance in previous shows. 

Schmitz has acted with passion, feeling and animation. I was intrigued to see what a play under her direction may look like. Unsurprisingly, “These Shining Lives” was a great production full of emotion and personality. 

“These Shining Lives” is a play based on the true story of the Radium Girls. The Radium Girls were a number of women who worked for Radium Dial Co. in the 1920s and subsequently acquired fatal radium poisoning. 

Narrated by Catherine Donohue (Blair McKown), the play follows the story of herself and three other women, Pearl Payne (Avery Yates), Frances O’Connell (Rayn Miller) and Charlotte Purcell (Haley Boyd), as they begin their jobs of making watches. In order to save supplies and time, the girls are instructed to use their mouths to create a fine tip on their paint brushes before dipping it in radium and painting.

Catherine shows off her work to her boss at the Radium Dial Company. (Photo courtesy of USI Media)

Slowly, the girls begin to notice their bodies and health wearing away, and they find out Radium Dial Co. was lying to them about the safety of radium. Faced with a terminal diagnosis of radium poisoning, the women bravely take to the news and courthouses to make a stand. 

The highlight of this play was the emotion and passion displayed by the actors. McKown, Boyd and Gavin Carter as Tom Donohue, stood out to me, especially with their portrayals of rage, grief and sadness. The bursts of pain and anger from Boyd and Carter made me feel genuine tension and discomfort. 

Boyd, who is new to the stage this year, especially shone. She made her character feel well-rounded and human. Boyd utilized expression and dramatics without overacting, and all of her dialogue felt authentic. I’m excited to see what she does in future productions.

Tom grieves his wife’s fate. Carter and his fellow cast mates did a phenomenal job displaying complex emotions. (Photo courtesy of USI Media)

As the lead, McKown impacted the delivery and effectiveness of the play. I did find that the line delivery at times felt a bit unnatural or obviously scripted. However, the emotion and personality she put into her character, as well as the passion with which she delivered emotional monologues, helped the play hit its mark. 

The ending monologue, delivered by the women of the play, had audience members in tears. I am not one to cry at plays, but even I was fighting off the waterworks. McKown spoke with such passion and vindication for the girls who were lost to the company’s neglect. Her words about finding peace while running out of time, paired with the tranquility of the audio and visual design, pulled on my heartstrings. 

The lighting and sound work for this play really stood out to me despite its subtlety. When the lighting needed to change for certain scenarios, the technicians never missed a beat. The overhead lights and the lighting through the fake window panels helped with the atmosphere. Small accents of sound effects or music always added to the emotion or tone of the scenes.

The girls enjoy a day out at the beach in celebration of their new jobs. Each character in the play was full of personality. (Photo courtesy of USI Media)


Overall, I think “These Shining Lives” was successful in bringing these women to life and making the audience feel something from their story. A story which many of them, myself included, had not heard before. As I have expressed in previous reviews, my favorite forms of art are the ones that can make me genuinely feel something while also educating me or saying something substantial. “These Shining Lives” succeeded in this.

I have so far enjoyed this year’s productions from USI Theatre, and I am eager to see where the company goes next. With such a successful run, I can’t wait to see “Fun Home” in February, and I encourage you to do the same.