By Nancy Oliveri
This weekend, Southern Tier Actors Read (S.T.A.R.) and the Phelps Mansion Museum will present a staged reading of These Shining Lives by Melanie Marnich. Barbara Vartanian, a S.T.A.R. member and actor in several past performances, is making her directorial debut with the two-act play.
She shares here, excerpted from the program, what drew her to this play, based on actual events:
“I first learned of These Shining Lives after reading Kate Moore’s book Radium Girls and read the stories of other women who worked in watch factories using radium-based paint to illuminate watch dials, and the devastating effect it had on their health.
“Upon reading Marnich’s play, I knew I wanted to bring it to life. I was struck by the beautiful writing and the relevance of the story to the lives of women today. I brought it to S.T.A.R. at one of our monthly meetings. The idea to stage it as a reading won immediate and wide support from members of the group.
“S.T.A.R. has been presenting important plays since 2010. To wit, These Shining Lives was deemed perfect for the staged reading format and the company’s goal to do compelling, relevant works. As it happened, Catherine Donohue filed a lawsuit against (the) Radium Dial Company that led to the passage of labor laws in Illinois, which compelled companies to be responsible for their workers’ safety and held them accountable for negligence. The suit helped establish the ‘Right to Know’ law that ultimately led to the creation of OSHA, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.”
S.T.A.R. founder and co-director Judy McMahon is Vartanian’s assistant director for this production, with Bonnie DeForest once again lending her talents as stage manager. S.T.A.R.’s evolving modus operandi has made DeForest’s job even more critical with the introduction of more props than the company had previously used, stage blocking and a reduced reliance on music stands (the previous anchors in a typical reading).
Vartanian acknowledged the help she received from S.T.A.R’s other co-director, Chris Nickerson, who is reading two roles in the play. “He supported me from the outset, listening to my ideas, coordinating the sound effects and designing our poster,” she said.
Rounding out the cast of These Shining Lives are Suzanne Brigham, Rick Kumpon, Kathleen Cook, Elizabeth Hotalen, Gary Neal Hansen, John Montgomery and Kirsten Whistle. Lisa Dutcher narrates.
IF YOU GO: Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (June 30-July 2) in the ballroom of the Phelps Mansion Museum, 191 Court St., Binghamton. For tickets, call the museum at 607-722-4873.