These Shining Lives | Mini Review

Hi guys! So I’ve been sick for the past couple of days and I haven’t been able to dedicate as much time to reading and reviewing as I’d like, so today’s review is going to be a mini one, but I hope you’ll check this one out. It’s really great!

These Shining Lives, a play by Melanie Marnich

Cover of Melanie Marnich's play, "These Shining Lives"


This play tells the story of a group of women who work in a radium dial company – they paint radium onto clock faces so they’re luminous and can be seen in the dark. This play takes place in the 1920s, when radium was not known as the deadly radioactive chemical it is today, but instead a “healthy” chemical that can only heal maladies.

The story focuses on Catherine Donohue, but this story is meant to represent the lives of so many women who were affected by this mistake. It’s a time when women are starting to enter the workforce and earn their own money – Catherine can’t believe her luck that she’s found such a fun, well-paying job. But when she starts feeling ill, and then is subsequently fired from her job, she begins to understand that the radium she’s been working with for years has begun to kill her, slowly.

My thoughts:

I was familiar with this story when I decided to read this play. As I’ve discovered, many who have come across and read this play have done so because they read The Radium Girls, a non-fiction book that tells the whole, encompassing story of these women who painted with radium. If you have not read this book, you should – it is amazing. I even included it in one of my previous posts! The story is fascinating an the writer of that book was inspired to tell this story because she saw These Shining Lives, and wanted to expand on it, reach a broader audience, to tell these women’s stories.

Kate Moore's "The Radium Girls"
The book inspired by the play.

I enjoyed reading the play – I found it to be very beautiful and the use of symbolism and the poetic monologues made it very impactful. Though I have seen that many who came to this play after having read The Radium Girls found it to be not enough, or lacking in detail. But plays are a different format and I found that Marnich did well with the material and created a compelling, accessible version of this story for an audience.

Though the play does not delve deeply into the story, the focus is mostly on the friendships between these women, their strength, and their desire to work for themselves and make something out of their life. Marnich highlights the fact that these women should not be played as victims. Though they suffer at the hands of the company that knew better, they are not to be pitied but to be admire for standing up for themselves and others who have no voice. Marnich gives them that voice and the play comes across as strong, meaningful, and I think reverent of these women. I enjoyed reading it and I wish I could see it performed.

5/5 Clock Dials

If you’ve read or seen this play, or read The Radium Girls, I’d love to hear your thoughts! If you haven’t please give either of these a read – this story is fascinating and so important.

Happy Women’s Her-story Month!

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