"I have done drama shows since I was a sophomore, and this is probably the most serious play I have ever been in and the most hard-hitting."
Lynnette Taitano is playing Grace Fryer in "Radium Girls," a play presented by Crook County High School Drama. Performances are scheduled from Feb. 28 through March 2 at the high school auditorium. The play starts at 7 p.m. each day.
"It is a show that takes place between 1918 and 1928. It is the first year of a class action suit against the U.S. Radium Corporation," explains Anita Hoffman, CCHS drama instructor. "They created a paint with radium, a radioactive element that was glow in the dark. At the height of World War I, U.S. Radium Corporation hired hundreds of young women to paint the dials on the faces of clocks, watches and instrument panels in airplanes because they had such delicate craftsmanship."
However, there were not enough paint brushes to supply the women with quality brushes, so as the fine point of the brushes wore down, they were told to wet the bristles with their tongues, restore them to a point and continue painting.
"While they were doing that, they were getting a daily dose of radiation and so within a couple of months, girls were dying in droves," Hoffman said. "They were getting weird mouth cancers, and their teeth were falling out."
This is the first time the drama students have taken on an historical drama where the play is based upon real-life events and includes characters who were actually involved in the situation. The lead character, Grace Fryer, was a real woman and one of the plaintiffs in the case, and Arthur Roeder, played by senior Lane Williams, was the real manager of the U.S. Radium Corporation.
"Most of the characters in the show are based on real people involved in either the trial or family or the company itself," Hoffman said.
The production will involve 25 students, 14 of whom are on the stage at various points during the play. Some of the actors will play multiple characters throughout the drama, including sophomore Dallen Nixon. He said that playing more than one character presents a challenge because he has to make quick costume changes to help keep the production moving from scene to scene.
"It is difficult because you have to change your mindset from like a total villain to a supporting role in the span of a few seconds," he added.
Though the play presents challenges, and like Taitano, is his first serious play, he enjoys being a part of it "because it really broadens your horizons and lets people know that this happened."
"This is part of our history," he remarked.
The show will branch out in other ways, Hoffman noted. The girls portraying the young painters in the play will be wearing make-up and prosthetics to portray the mouth tumors.
"We are doing what's called a unit set," she added. "The actors will bring on the props and set pieces to create the new settings, but the set itself will stay on stage."
The crew will experience with lighting as well, not only to highlight different portions of the set during different scenes, but to portray a nightmare scene.
"It's a really interesting, compelling story," Hoffman said. "Come see the show. It should be fun."
"Radium Girls" will be presented by Crook County High School Drama Feb. 28-March 2 at Eugene Southwell Auditorium. The play begins at 7 p.m. each day. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for students and senior citizens.