Completing its two-week run last weekend, the North Carolina Women’s Theatre Festival’s production of Melanie Marnich’s These Shining Lives, directed by Jorie Slodki, was well worth seeing, hearing, and feeling.
I used to begin my lectures on Romeo and Juliet something like this: “Part of the genius of Shakespeare’s play is in that, no matter how many times I have read it or seen it, I still (every time) find myself hoping-against-hope that the ending will somehow be different this time.” This was part of my experience with These Shining Lives. I first became aware of the tragedy depicted in this play back in the 1970s — Kurt Vonnegut’s Jailbird contains some oblique references — and, of course, the marketing of the play made it clear that this would be no “day-at-the-beach.” (But the story does include two such days, and the effect is amazing!)
Anyway: Melanie Marnich’s These Shining Lives created, for me, that same situation. I came in, I sat down, the lights dimmed, and I knew that I was about to witness the unfolding of a tragic loss of human life and dignity. However: once Catherine — Lydia Nethercutt — began speaking to me (that’s right, “to me”) I became enveloped with my same hope-against-hope that the ending might “somehow be different.” And meeting Catherine’s friends and co-workers (Charlotte: Maggie Lea, Frances: Candace Hescock, and Pearl: Danni Bee) and her husband (Tom: Nick Iammatteo) made me double-down on this hope.
In short, it is the human-ness that these artists infuse into their characters that makes this play, directed by Jorie Slodki, so intensely moving. Mr. Reed — Ryan Madanick — is the antagonist, but even this character avoids falling into the two-dimensional pit of “villain” — he believes in what he is doing, misguided though he might be. (And Madanick made us believe in his belief (but not agree).)
Seizing on the central theme of Time, director Jorie Slodki has chosen to place a clock (as a metaphor) in a central spot of the set. Likewise, she makes use of an ominous tick-tock sound effect at key points of the story.
Speaking of sound-effects, sound designer Aharon Segal supplies some very authentic sounding 1920s music that sounds just like it is playing on the authentic looking 1920s radio supplied by set designer and props manager Mac McCord (who deserves major kudos for everything else on the stage).
And, speaking of looks, costume designer Mikki Stith and hair-and-make-up artist Anna Benrud Talley supply a one-two punch that scores knockout.
For the most part, lighting designer Karyn Leigh Raynor adds to the magic with fades and nuances that enhance the mood. Our Department of Picky-Picky, however, noticed a “dead spot” that could possibly have been compensated for by some adjustments in blocking.
As the promo states: “These Shining Lives is based on the true story of The Radium Girls. Their fight for justice was a landmark legal case for workers’ rights and occupational diseases.”
It is, indeed, a story that needs telling. playwright Melanie Marnich has supplied a first-rate script; director Jorie Slodki, along with her cast and crew, have done the rest!
Major league kudos to the Women’s Theatre Festival for choosing this work and for choosing Slodki to direct it! Yvette Holder and I were properly impressed!
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 1st Durham, NC Indy Week review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 2 of 5 stars): https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-best-historical-plays-excavate-the-why-but-these-shining-lives-stops-with-the-who-and-the-what/Content?oid=16472398; July 28th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9068; July 26th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW Interview with author Kate Moore, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Interview-New-York-Times-Bestselling-Author-Kate-Moore-Talks-The-Radium-Girls-THESE-SHINING-LIVES-and-Radioactive-Legacy-20180726; and July 11th Hillsborough, NC WHUP/104.7 FM interview with director Jorie Slodki and actor Lydia Nethercutt, conducted by Wayne Leonard for “Lights Up!”: https://whupfm.org/episode/lights-up-71118-permanent-archive/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the July 29th Triangle Review review by Pamela Vesper, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2018/07/these-shining-lives-by-melanie-marnich-is-a-great-show-about-women-who-were-ahead-of-their-time/.)
THESE SHINING LIVES (North Carolina Women’s Theatre Festival, July 27-29 and Aug. 2-5 at The ArtsCenter of Carrboro).
SHOW: https://www.womenstheatrefestival.com/these-shining-lives and https://www.facebook.com/events/2143460359003192/.
2018 SEASON: https://www.womenstheatrefestival.com/2018-season-program.
PRESENTER: http://www.womenstheatrefestival.com/, https://www.facebook.com/WTFNC/, and https://twitter.com/wtfestivalnc.
VENUE: http://www.artscenterlive.org/, https://www.facebook.com/artscenterlive, and https://twitter.com/ArtsCenterlive.
These Shining Lives (2008 Baltimore and 2009 Chicago drama): https://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4192 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://newdramatists.org/melanie-marnich/these-shining-lives (New Dramatists play page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/These_Shining_Lives (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Melanie Marnich (playwright and screenwriter): http://newdramatists.org/melanie-marnich (New Dramatists bio), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3346060/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melanie_Marnich (Wikipedia).
Jorie Slodki (director): https://www.facebook.com/GeoBQn (Facebook page).
[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.