DDHS Theater glows with ‘These Shining Lives’

Why to the characters central to this dramatic play ‘shine’? Look, here, to see scenes from this moving show – now playing at David Douglas High School …

Catherine Donohue (played by Emily Veenstra) tells why she’s looking forward to helping supplement the family’s income with a new job.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

While the David Douglas High School (DDHS) Theater Department opened its winter show, called THESE SHINING LIVES, on the stage of the Horner Auditorium on the evening of March 9, the staging was unique.

For the first time ever, this play is presented “Black Box” style – that is, in a small theater setting – with the actors and audience together on the auditorium’s stage.

Catherine accepts the job from Mr. Reed (played by Strider VanMeter) at the Radium Dial Company.

Catherine, Charlotte (played by Erin Grady), Francis (Amber Rynearson), and Pearl (Madi Pauli-Bretthauer) get along well, as they race through painting radium on watch dials.

“At points in the story, characters start talking directly to the audience,” DDHS Theater Instructor and the show’s Executive Director, David Rosenbaum told East Portland News. “So, we wanted have the audience ‘up close and personal’ in this conversation.”

And, although the eight actors in this ensemble play on a sparely-decorated stage, Rosenbaum pointed out that the production takes full advantage of the auditorium’s lighting and sound system.

Tom Donohue (played by Korbin Chapman) shares his concerns about her working outside the home with Catherine.

About the story
The facts from which THESE SHINING LIVES was written tells the story about four young women who get great-paying jobs at the Radium Dial Company, painting the faces of wristwatches and clocks with a glow-in-the-dark compound.

As the audience comes to learn, in the late 1920s, workers who questioned the safety of their workplaces – in this case, when their hands, hair, and lips start glowing in the dark, and they contract mysterious illnesses – they face dire consequences from their employer.

As the story unfolds, audiences will experience how “Katie” and her work friends refused to allow the company that stole their health to kill their spirits, or endanger the lives of others.

Quoting from an “official health document”, Mr. Reed proclaims the radium used at their company is “pure” and safe.

At the performance we attended, the actors showed their acting skills, portraying a wide range of emotions – from joyfully celebrating their “wonderful luck” at getting great jobs, through learning their work was actually killing them.

This contemporary play, written in 2008, has fine roles for female actors, Rosenbaum pointed out. “We’ve been doing a lot of classic pieces, and now we wanted to do something a little bit more modern – but still, a play with which the students could really connect,” he said.

Although the events took place decades ago, the show reveals topical issues, “such as who decides which stories are told, and what information is released in the media,” explained Rosenbaum.

The four ladies have little enthusiasm for card game, as they decide what actions they should take.

Two ensembles present this play
Although THESE SHINING LIVES was written for a cast of eight actors, Rosenbaum said that he, and student directors Olivia VanSlyke and Amber Holub, decided to create to sets of casts that play in the show in alternating performances, allowing more student actors to perform in this small ensemble play.

A dozen DDHS Theater Department stage technicians adroitly operate the lighting, sound, and visual effects.

“In this intimate setting, each performance can only accommodate a maximum of 90 audience members, so be sure to get your tickets early – and consider seeing two performances of this great play,” Rosenbaum advised, reminding about the two different casts involved.

There’s no adult language or situations, but because this is a moving, dramatic presentation, it’s probably not suited for children.

Now all ill – and facing dismissal from their jobs – the four workers get troubling news about their health from a doctor who doesn’t work for the company.

THESE SHINING LIVES continues in the DDHS Horner Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. on the evenings of March 10 and 11, and again on March 16, 17, 18. Or, see afternoon matinee performances on March 12 and 19 at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $8/students or seniors; $10/adults. The Box Office is open Monday, Wednesday and Fridays on school days from 3:00 until 5:30 p.m. and before each show; call (503) 261-8270. Or, to reserve your tickets (and pay for them at the Box Office): CLICK HERE.

This cast of THESE SHINING LIVES accepts the well-earned applause of their audience.

© 2017 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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