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Carpenter Square Theatre's production of 'These Shining Lives' explores the catastrophic effects of radium poisoning

Carpenter Square Theatre continues its season with “These Shining Lives,” a drama about women who are unwillingly subjected to radium poisoning.
BY JOHN BRANDENBURG Published: April 11, 2012

It wasn't a fairy tale or a tragedy, although it had elements of both, but something even better, a play about ordinary people that built to a quietly moving finale. Carpenter Square Theatre's production of “These Shining Lives” is the story of four women working at a Chicago area dial watch firm — dream jobs that turn into nightmares when they all get radium poisoning.

Brytanie Holbrook was superb as the play's narrator-protagonist, Catherine, who starts work in 1922, more than willing to paint glowing dials for 8 cents a timepiece, giving her brush a point by licking it!

Addressing the audience as she bonded with her co-workers, Holbrook seemed to glow in the role, and not just from the toxic material she was working with, as the upbeat 1920s gave away to the depression era.

Providing excellent support as her fellow workers were Crystal Ecker, Christine Jolly and Allyson Rose, each of whom gave their characters enough foibles to make them stand out as individuals.

Ecker was especially memorable as the talkative, outspoken Charlotte, who first treats Catherine as a rival, but becomes a true friend as well as a catalyst, letting a poker hand decide who will sue the company.

Tall and handsome, but a man of few words, Justin Haley walked a tightrope, like his construction worker character does on high girders, in the part of Catherine's husband, Tom. Haley got across Tom's complex, layered reactions — supportive but patronizing, uneasy with the downside of his wife's job away from their two children, and yet deeply loving despite his mixed emotions.

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