Inspired by historic figures and events from 1917 to the 1920s, Mundelein High School Theatre is presenting "Radium Girls" by D.W. Gregory. The play will run in the MHS Auditorium at 3:45 and 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, and 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 1 and 2.
The discovery of radium was initially heralded as a miracle element with all sorts of applications, from health tonic and cancer cure to military use in glow-in-the-dark paint for instruments in the trenches of World War I.
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Later it was a domestic novelty for glow-in-the-dark clock faces and wristwatches. For the young women who were hired to paint watch dials, these jobs paid well and the work was not very hard.
In order to get a fine point on the brushes used to paint the dials, the girls would put the brushes between their lips. In doing so, they ingested the paint, which made them ill. When some of the girls began to die lingering and painful deaths, questions arose, which industry leaders did not want answered.
"Radium Girls" follows the fictionalized legal battle of one woman to see justice done for herself and her dead friends.
Though the play is set in Orange, N.J., it does have an Illinois connection: There was also a company in downstate Ottawa, the Radium Dial Company, where young female employees also suffered from toxic radiation.
"It is a very compelling story," said Jonathan Meier, director of "Radium Girls." "While it is a very sad subject, the play is fast moving and is written with a lot of warmth and humor. Ultimately, it is the story of the indelibility of the human spirit as these young women fight against the corporation that made them sick."
The cast for "Radium Girls" is made up of 37 MHS students.
"We had so many talented students audition," Meier continued, "that I ended up double-casting many of the roles."
Ticket prices are a recommended donation of $5 for students and seniors and $7 for adults. Tickets can be purchased at the door on the evening of the performances. The matinee performance Jan. 31 is free for MHS students.