Female empowerment illuminated in tragedy

Blind Brook High School thespians take on a contemporary drama in production of ‘Radium Girls’
November 16, 2023 at 1:43 a.m.
Grace Fryer (played by Cassidy Wohl) is jarred to hear that her close friend Kathryn Schaub (played by Abby Meron) feels her death is imminent. The Blind Brook High School students are rehearsing for the Drama Club’s production of “Radium Girls,” a contemporary drama slated to showcase this weekend.
Grace Fryer (played by Cassidy Wohl) is jarred to hear that her close friend Kathryn Schaub (played by Abby Meron) feels her death is imminent. The Blind Brook High School students are rehearsing for the Drama Club’s production of “Radium Girls,” a contemporary drama slated to showcase this weekend. (Sarah Wolpoff/Westmore News)

By SARAH WOLPOFF | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment
Assistant Editor

Before stepping onto the stage, Abby Meron takes a moment for a deep breath to channel the rage of her foremothers.

    While discussing future dreams of marriage with her boyfriend Tom (played by Hunter Greenspan), Grace Fryer (played by Cassidy Wohl) clutches her face due to a toothache, her first sign of sickness.
 By Sarah Wolpoff 

“I feel like we’ll never be able to completely understand the multitude of this situation and what exactly they went through,” said the junior, speaking of the cast and crew preparing to present the Blind Brook High School Drama Club’s fall production. “But for me, it’s easier when I use the emotions I have about women’s rights movements and thinking about how hard these women worked to get me to where I am today. The feelings I have for that subject, I use that as motivation to portray their story.”

The Drama Club is embarking on a year of girl power, described the program’s longtime Director and Producer Christina Colangelo, who typically tries to balance the fall play and spring musical harmoniously together. While the high schoolers, in grandiose fashion, will be putting on a spectacle of “Mama Mia!” in a few months, currently they are gearing up for a far melancholier piece: “Radium Girls.”

Mostly set in the 1920s, the show depicts a true story—following female laborers hired to dye dials in the U.S. Radium Corporation plant, using a technique that involved dipping the brushes for radium-based paint in their mouths.

The dangers of radium, then considered to only have health benefits by the public, had yet to be revealed—though researchers and executives in the industry were starting to discover adverse effects behind closed doors. But as more and more women from the factory suffered fatal consequences, survivors fought their way to a public court case which ultimately led the way to a monumental moment in labor rights establishing workers’ safety regulations.

    Dr. Flinn (played by Pablo Zeitune) shares his research with the corporation bigwig Arthur Roeder (played by Josh Fitzpatrick) to make it seem like radium is harmless.
 By Sarah Wolpoff 

“The play is about so many things, so many layers, but it’s really a story about women who were taken advantage of and who then stood up for what they felt was the right thing,” Colangelo said. “I’ve seen other high schools putting it on, and I had never heard of it before. So, I read it, and thought, this is a great opportunity for girls to step into the leads.”

    With new evidence in hand, Berry (played by Christian Boruch), the attorney representing the ill women, is eager to bring the documents to light that were provided by advocate Miss Wiley (played by Brooke Sosin).
 By Sarah Wolpoff 

The show features a small cast of 12 students, most of whom jump between different roles throughout the performance—making quick costume changes and makeup retouches, as the women are shown getting increasingly sick from the poisoning. “Radium Girls” will perform in the high school theater on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 17 and 18, with both performances starting at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by searching “Blind Brook” at www.showtix4u.com.

“Radium Girls” is not a very well-known play, but it’s a story of significance—one that the students think is undersold in the history books. And it presents a challenge for the young thespians, who have yet to tackle a live contemporary drama in their high school careers.

“It’s nice to explore that side of acting, rather than just comedy,” said Hunter Greenspan, a senior. “This is very real, and it’s been interesting trying to play real characters rather than caricatures…It’s trying more to try less. I’m putting myself in the headspace instead of trying to do big and goofy.”

“I think they’re enjoying the dramatic piece of it and getting to do something a little more serious,” Colangelo said. “They’re really working hard to understand that playing real people doesn’t mean being boring. When you’re playing real people, there’s this temptation to underplay, so they’re getting some really good experience.”

Empathy is key for any actor when stepping into character acting, said senior Cassidy Wohl, who stars as the show’s protagonist Grace Fryer. And after learning more about the history the Drama Club is trying to portray, she said the emotional energy came easily.

    A big-media reporter and photographer (played by Toby Grossberg and Hannah Levine) seek to buy exclusive rights to Grace Fryer’s story.
 By Sarah Wolpoff 

Backstage, she recalled, she finds herself repeating the words: “I’m sick and I’m mad, I’m sick and I’m mad.” She’s putting herself in the shoes of her character and wants to put on a performance where the audience does the same.

“This show deals with subjects that are a little painful and hard to listen to or hear about, but I think that’s the beauty of it,” Wohl said. “Taking on these characters, these women, is so important. It’s so important to highlight their stories and bring these girls back to life, no matter how difficult it may be to watch, or play. To be honest, it’s hard to put yourself in the shoes of these women who have gone through so much.

“It definitely evokes a lot of emotion out of you,” added senior Toby Grossberg, especially when the thespians ponder the ways the show has societal relevance today—beyond the plot at face value.

Meron agreed, noting the idea is to leave that impression on the showgoers as well.

“It leaves audiences something to think about,” she said. “It’s able to send the message that this was an issue and it still kind of is, and also the difference of where we were and where we are now.”

Grossberg equated the theme to the more current actions of pharmaceutical and alcohol companies—industries that spent massive marketing budgets to make substances that harm appealing to the average consumer. Echoing a similar sentiment, Greenspan described the show as “pressing” and hopes that’s the takeaway the audience sees.

“Had (the executives) done their due diligence, they probably could have prevented all of this, because it was being researched. But they had been making so much money they didn’t care,” he said. “It’s about corporations versus people and consumers and safety. And the lessons of the show aren’t done being taught, whether it’s in climate change (regulations) or the workers’ strikes we’ve just recently seen.”

    As Grace Fryer’s story becomes a media sensation, she starts getting attention through fan mail, such as from the Venecine salesperson (played by Hannah Levine) who tries to sell her on a marketing partnership.
 By Sarah Wolpoff 

And largely, “Radium Girls” tells a powerful story about female empowerment, which are needed images to impress, particularly on fellow women, Wohl said. The show shares how women banded together, despite adversity, to ensure truth for the public good would prevail, and that, she said, is a “one-of-a-kind inspiration” for the era.

“We learn about women’s rights and stuff like that in school, but this is never a story that gets brought up,” Meron said. “It’s another point of view that not a lot of people know about, and the fact that it’s all true definitely leaves an impact.”

    Unknowing of their fate, the Radium Girls gossip as they work away with paints at the factory. From the left: Abby Meron, Cassidy Wohl, Tobby Grossberg and Hannah Levine.
 By Sarah Wolpoff 

    In an eerie start to the production, Radium Girls played by Abby Meron, Cassidy Wohl and Toby Grossberg perform a dance as the stage gets illuminated by their glow in the dark dresses.
 By Sarah Wolpoff 


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