Luminous Performance: Radium Girls Grapples with Ethical Dilemmas

Rachel Healy, Campus Life Editor

As the lights dimmed inside the Tustin Studio Theatre, the interior was bathed in the green glow of radium. The production “Radium Girls” opened on Oct. 23, but tickets for all shows had been sold out since Oct. 20.

The production centers around three women who work at a radium factory and paint watch dials with glow-in-the-dark numbers for the military, the scientist who discovered the radium-infused paint, and the factory manager. 

The “ethical dilemma” at the heart of the story is that the radium is carcinogenic, and the young women in the factory have developed cancer in their jaws from repetitive consumption of the radioactive substance. The factory and its managers were aware of the risks of radium, but still instructed the women to use the substance and continue production practices that directly exposed them to the radioactive material.

“Radium Girls” is an interdisciplinary study in management ethics, biology, history, and culture. It is therefore no surprise that the majority of the tickets for the show went to students in management, biology, and biomedical engineering courses.

Riddled with humor, ethics, and despair, “Radium Girls” asked its audience to be complicit in the actions of the company as well as sympathetic to the suffering of the women. The design of the stage, a platform in the middle with the audience seated on four sides, created a feeling evocative of the Coliseum. Watching the action unfold but being unable to do anything, the audience members could see each other along with  the actors.

“It was an excellent performance. They incorporated different aspects of the era–gender roles, business and medical industry, and the media. I was very impressed with the actors and the way they used the stage, lighting, and how smoothly the props were moved in and out. Great story; well told!” Sophie Bromand ’17 said. 

“The play raised important ethical issues that we still see today,” Elizabeth Hyers ’16 said.

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