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Real events form basis of latest Masquers production

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | April 21, 2022 1:20 AM

SOAP LAKE — A tale of exposure to hazardous materials at work and the tragedy and societal change that came from it will be presented at Masquers Theater beginning April 22. “These Shining Lives” will be presented for three weekends, with the curtain going up at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

The play is a departure for director Cynthia Beyer, a Masquers veteran.

“I’ve never directed in my life, but this play just spoke to me,” she said.

“These Shining LIves” details the fate of Catharine Donahue (Mistya Zaleski in the Masquers production) who lands a coveted job at the Radium Dial Company in 1922 Illinois. Radium is one of those miraculous new discoveries, and among its amazing properties is that it can make other substances glow in the dark. That makes it a natural for the watch and clock market - just think, people can see what time it is without turning on the lights.

What no one knows in 1922 is that radium exposure is fatal. And the application method increases the exposure of the women who paint the watch faces - Catherine and her friends Charlotte (Allison Pheasant), Frances (Abby Burlingame) and Pearl (Destiny Bunney).

When the women start getting sick and the cause is discovered, the owners of Radium Dial see no reason they should have to pay for their employees’ health problems - former employees by then, since the women were fired - or provide them any compensation. The women who had worked in the factory, some of whom eventually died from the exposure, became known as the “Radium Girls.”

The play originally was scheduled for the 2020-21 season, which was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zaleski said the role of Catherine is a departure for her.

“This is my first lead role. I’m excited,” she said.

Zaleski said she knew the story before getting cast for the role.

“I read about the Radium Girls and it just appealed to me,” she said.

Beyer said she first encountered the story of the Radium Girls on social media and was attracted by the female characters, all based on real people. They were strong, she said, and wanted to work at a time when most women didn’t.

“They were very independent,” Beyer said.

They were trailblazers too, Beyer said, although they probably would’ve preferred not to be.

“A tragedy happens, and that’s where laws get changed,” she said.

The appeal of directing is watching the work the cast puts into it result in a finished product, Beyer said.

“It’s like a picture that you’re painting,” she said. “I love seeing everything come together.”

It took a good cast to make that happen, added Zaleski.

“We’ve got a good cast,” Zaleski said. “We’ve got good chemistry.”

Acting requires discipline, she said, tapping into emotions to play people in situations that are unknown or unfamiliar. But then other scenes conjure up emotions that are all familiar. A scene where Zaleski’s character, Catherine, thinks about her children brought up experiences and emotions from her own life, Zaleski said.

“You have to figure out what in your life you’re going to pull into the character without going too far,” she said.

Tickets for “These Shining Lives” can be purchased on the Masquers website, www.masquers.com.

“These Shining Lives” is the company’s next-to-last play for the 2021-22 season. Masquers will present a comedy based on the classic adventure-spy novel “The 39 Steps” in June. Auditions for “The 39 Steps” are April 24 and 25 at the theater.

Cheryl Schweizer may be reached at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com and welcomes news tips about events in the community.

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CHERYL SCHWEIZER/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

Tom Donohue (CW Forrest, left) comforts his wife Catherine (Mistya Zaleski, right) in a scene from “These Shining Lives.” The Masquers Theater production runs for three weekends, beginning April 22.

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CHERYL SCHWEIZER/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

Catherine Donahue (Mistya Zaleski) makes her decision in the Masquers Theater production of “These Shining Lives.” The play focuses on Donahue's and her coworkers personal tragedy after exposure to a toxic substance in the 1920s.

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CHERYL SCHWEIZER/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

Pearl (Destiny Bunney, left) cheers up Catherine (Mistya Zaleski, right) with one of her infamous jokes in a scene from “These Shining Lives.” While the play covers tragedies, it also has a dose of humor.

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CHERYL SCHWEIZER/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

Catherine (Mistya Zaleski, left) tells her story to the court with the help of her attorney Leonard Grossman (Dino Gonzales, right) in the Masquers Theater production of “These Shining Lives.”

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CHERYL SCHWEIZER/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

Catherine (Mistya Zaleski, right) comforts her husband Tom (CW Forrest, left) in the Masquers Theater production of “These Shining Lives.”

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