“These Shining Lives” musical shows the fight for workers’ safety rights

Kellie Wambold

The UW Oshkosh theatre department’s production of “These Shining Lives” is a show about standing up for what’s right, even in the face of adversity. Written by Merlaine Marnich, “These Shining Lives” premiered in 2008 and revealed the true story of Catherine Donohue, a woman whose job was to paint watches with a radium compound in the 1920s. “These Shining Lives” follows Donohue and three other women as they realize what the radium, and the company they work for has done to them and the women’s fight against the injustice. “Catherine Donohue’s case was a landmark case,” director Merlaine Angwall said. “It brought to the forefront of people’s minds what is going on with workers’ safety. It also brought forward the responsibility companies and corporations have to its workers.” Angwall said she chose this play because its subject matter is still relevant today, as there are still issues with Union Street worker treatment, such as the illnesses workers contract when they pick produce covered in pesticides or a disease known as Tobacco Worker’s Lung, which is caused by inhaling tobacco mold when the tobacco plants are gathered. “There are many people now who think unions are a bad idea and think we should do away with them, even though unions are very important to the workforce,” Angwall said. Mallory Radney, who plays one of the female workers, said she thinks the play carries a message of hope, while still being a good reminder of all the work that still needs to be done. “It’s a story about a woman who was treated poorly by a company who knew that they were doing something bad,” Radney said. “I think it shows how far we’ve come as a country, but it’s still relevant today.” Radney also said that theatre is one of the best ways to deliver this message. “Theatre challenges you to think in different ways,” Radney said. “It pushes the limits.” Even with the show’s heavy themes of worker safety and standing up to big corporations, Angwall said her time working on the show has been enjoyable. “In spite of its subject matter, it’s a fun show,” Angwall said. Griffyn Albers, who plays one of the other female workers in the play, said it’s been fun capturing the many levels of emotion in the play. “There is a plethora of emotions in the play,” Albers said. “It is not sad. It is not happy. It is not funny. It is all of the above wrapped into one.” Angwall said the play has presented a fun challenge for the cast as they capture this moment in history. “These are characters that actually lived at one time and these are real people, and that’s been a fun aspect to work on,” Angwall said. Amy Baumgardner, who plays Donohue, said capturing the essence of these women has been essential to relaying the play’s different themes. “It’s a story about ordinary girls,” Baumgardner said. “You get to see the story of somebody else’s life. These people are in front of you reliving somebody else’s life.” Angwall said this story about “ordinary girls” has an important theme that is still relevant today, and it’s one students should pay attention to. “This is a play about what happens to people when they take action into their own hands, when the individual stands up for their rights,” Angwall said. “It’s also a play about not giving up, about prevailing and going forward, even when everyone tells you no and doing what’s right anyway.” Matthew Nielsen, who plays Donohue’s lawyer, said the play reveals some of life’s harsher truths. “You need to realize that life still isn’t fair,” Nielsen said. “People have had struggles, but they’ve overcome them and have done something about them.” Baumgardner said the play also takes a look at what makes all of those struggles worth it through different relationships in the play. “Appreciate everyone around you, because things can happen, and life takes unexpected turns, but as long as you love each other and support each other, life is worth living,” Baumgardner said. “These Shining Lives” runs this Thursday, Nov. 19 through Sunday, Nov. 22 at the Fredric March Theatre. Student tickets are $5 and will be sold starting an hour before the show.