New Lansing theater company shows much promise with first production


There’s a new theater company in town, and it’s off to a very good start. Alive Theatre’s first production, “These Shining Lives,” by Melanie Marnich, is based on the tragic and true story of the Radium Dial Co., which used radioactive luminescent paint to illuminate clock and watch faces, resulting in devasting and deadly bouts of cancer for the women employed there. The women were knowingly misled by the company regarding the dangers and risks associated with their employment, and they trusted company doctors when they were told not to worry about the symptoms they mutually suffered. When the women became too ill to continue working, they were fired.

The stand the women took against the malfeasance of their employer was at first derided or ignored by the popular press, but as they began to testify in court and make their sufferings known, opinion shifted toward the women. The outcry and trial increased overall awareness of occupational safety issues faced by workers in the United States.

This weighty material is handled well by team at Alive Theatre. Director Christine Hall, who also plays lead character Catherine Donohue, has made sure the presentational style and tone of the show are appropriate with each changing scene. Though the play is a very heavy one, it never settles into pathos and does an excellent job of finding the silver lining in every cloud, which is certainly a relief. Also of note is the cast members’ awareness of the stage. It’s wonderful to see everyone cheating out and to hear everyone speaking with strong clarity and diction.

Hall does a fine job with her character, showing she’s a strong actress to base a production upon. She does an apt job of dramatizing the gradual decline in her character’s health as well as her gradual yet steady resolve to fight for justice.

In the role of Charlotte Purcell, Mandy Jaster is a sassy and saucy antagonist turned ally. Jaster shows good chemistry with the other actors and does very well navigating the show’s changes in tone, providing both laughs and gravitas. She has one of the best moments in the production when she lets down her armor and becomes vulnerable as she reveals her illness to her coworkers.

Rebecca Morgan, who plays Frances O’Connell, is quite believable as the voice of reason, and Lexy Irving, as Pearl Payne, shows promise and maturity beyond her years, retaining her light touch as she negotiates the course of her disease. As for th emen, Joshua Price is well fit to play Donohue’s husband, Tom, Timothy Van Bruggen is a versatile character actor put to good use, and I enjoyed Luke Mason’s turn as firebrand attorney Leonard Grossman.

The set is simple and functional, and the lighting is efficient, with well-placed special effects and twin projection screens that are used as a framing device for scene changes as well as to indicate passage of time. The screens offer sharp, crisp and succinct graphics in the style ofthe play’s setting, the 1920s into the ‘30s. Thanks to costumer Deb Ramirez and hair designer Deb Martin, the costumes and wigs are gorgeously created, detailed and fitted, changing with each new act and character. Everything is just so, from shoes and purses to cigarettes and lighters, and the color palettes are appropriate and consistent throughout.


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