Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

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The mystery behind Radium Girls is how such a fascinating piece of history could be turned into such a boring drama. Yet, according to playwright D.W. Gregory’s website, this is her most performed play and it has received a number of awards.

In recounting how a group of female factory workers were poisoned by the radium-based paint they applied to watch faces to make them luminous—they were forced to lick the paintbrushes into fine points—Gregory replaces dramatic opportunity with short sequences, lack of meaningful characterization and multiple doubling.

The reality is compelling. Five of the radium girls brought suit against their employer, the U.S. Radium Corporation, eventually winning some financial compensation and payment of their medical bills for the remainder of their much-shortened lives.

The precedent-setting legal case impacted the labour rights movement, health and safety in the workplace and scientific knowledge. Sadly, Gregory’s script recounting what should be a compelling tale of personal suffering and corporate greed qualifies more aptly as treatment for insomniacs.

Little wonder that the Kanata Theatre production of Radium Girls has much the same effect.

Director Tom Kobolak, supported by set and lighting designer Karl Wagner, works hard to inject some of the real-life drama into the fictionalized version. It rarely works, in part because it is often difficult to distinguish among some of the 37 roles the 10 cast members are playing.

Performances range from strong to tentative and embarrassingly weak. One or two high points, such as Derek Barr’s display of corporate greed and lack of sympathy as executive Charles Lee and Katrina Soroka’s final push for justice as Grace Fryer. But, generally, this production reflects awkwardness and drags particularly slowly through the long gaps between scenes.

Radium Girls.

By D.W. Gregory

Kanata Theatre Production

Director……………………………………………………Tom Kobolak

Set and lighting……………………………………………Karl Wagner

Sound………………………………………………………Brooke Keneford

Costumes……………………………………Maxine Ball and Marilyn Valiquette

Cast:

Grace Fryer……………………………………………….Katrina Soroka

Arthur Roeder…………………………………………….Bruce Rayfuse

Berry et al…………………………………………………Paul LeDuc

Markley et al………………………………………………Harold Swaffield

Irene/Miss Wiley et al…………………………………….Emily Walsh

Kathryn et al………………………………………………Courtney Roy

Mrs. MacNeil/Mrs. Fryer et al…………………………….Tracey nash

Tom/Dr. Knef et al…………………………………………Paul Arbour

Diane Roeder et al…………………………………………..Karen Germundsen

Charles Lee et al…………………………………………….Derek Barr