GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Strong play, strong cast.
Distilled, that is “These Shining Lives” in a presentation by Green Bay Community Theater.
Based in true life, the story made headlines in the 1930s.
Playwright Melanie Marnich personalizes the legalities, science and medicine around four women whose friendship grew in their workplace.
The play starts with Catherine Donohue eager to start work at a Chicago area company and earn $8 a week to help with her family’s struggles. Her husband, Tom, is an ironworker whose pay isn’t covering needs because the couple has two children.
Catherine joins women who paint numbers on clock dials. The clocks are popular. Those numbers glow in the dark.
Working all day at a large table, Catherine soon clicks with steadfast Frances, jokester Pearl and sharp-tongued Charlotte.
Charlotte is a tough nut to crack. “Interesting hair,” she says to Catherine as a greeting. “That wasn’t a compliment.”
For a long time, everything is hunky dory.
The boss seems congenial and caring. Catherine’s husband is loving and caring. The women enjoy each other’s company to the point of sharing idyllic time on a beach of Lake Michigan.
Catherine has been coming home “sparkling like an angel,” Tom says. It’s the radium dust she paints with – radium having been extoled as practically a cure-all.
When aches arrive, Catherine goes to the company doctor. She soon learns such a doctor takes care of the company’s interest. She also learns her friends visited the doctor with their concerns and were giving the same advice: Take aspirin.
This scenario is artfully developed by sensitive director Sandy Zochert, her six actors and their creative collaborators.
Flashing to one compelling scene: Raechal Wozniak-Sanford, as a weaken Catherine, turns away pleas of her children to join them but can’t because of her failing health. By way of lighting, Catherine is focal, and her children are but shadows in the rear with two of the adult actors (Falon Scott and Connor Heimerman) voicing the needs for a mother.
Such theatrical strength is all around.
Assisting is the use of projections on a screen to the rear of the stage. Images help set the time, place and general aura of the era.
Raechal Wozniak-Sanford is central because Catherine is narrator, personalizing all the ups and downs at work or home. Raechal Wozniak-Sanford is solid in solo or as a teammate. She also represents the caring that goes into this production.
Work scenes are lively because of the characters generated by Katie Schroeder (Charlotte), Lydia Skarivoda (Frances), Falon Scott (Pearl) and Raechal Wozniak-Sanford. Melanie Marnich stretches behaviors a bit in her storytelling to get across the feeling that the four are chums.
Except for Raechal Wozniak-Sanford, the players take on multiple roles and show their range.
Among key changes, Connor Heimerman is the “nice” boss, the ineffective company doctor and the women’s fierce attorney, and Bob Pekol is Catherine’s concerned husband and the women’s straightforward, truthful doctor.
Along with Raechal Wozniak-Sanford, lighting up the stage in major ways are Katie Schroeder as the world-wise Charlotte and Bob Pekol when he unleashes Tom’s pent-up, attack-mode emotions in a gripping, soulful scene with the boss.
Commitment all around fuels this production, among the finest in Green Bay Community Theater’s 85 years.
Running time: Two hours, 10 minutes
Remaining performances: 4 p.m. Nov. 12; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16, 17, 18; 4 p.m. Nov. 19, 20
Creative: Playwright – Melanie Marnich; director – Sandy Zochert; stage manager – Valerie Rivas; production designer – Kit Honkanen; set construction – John Myers; light designer and sound – Kit Honkanen; set dresser – Sandy Zochert; prop master – Karen Konshak; costume design – The Actors; hair and make-up – Jackie Ploor; floor manager – Eileen Kozlovsky
Catherine Donohue – Raechal Wozniak-Sanford
Charlotte Purcell, etc. – Katie Schroeder
Frances O’Connell, etc. – Lydia Skarivoda
Pearl Payne, etc. – Falon Scott
Tom Donohue, etc. – Bob Pekol
Mr. Reed, etc. – Connor Heimerman
NEXT: “Murder by Misadventure” by Edward Taylor, Feb. 16-18, 22-26.
THE VENUE: Located at 122 N. Chestnut Ave. on Green Bay’s near west side, Green Bay Community Theater is one of the few community theaters that owns its performance space – and rehearsal space under the same roof. Stability is a big benefit. A landmark on Green Bay’s west side, the 193-seat Robert Lee Brault Playhouse features elements of an earlier time as a church, built in 1854 (the current backstage dressing room), 1895 (auditorium) and 1911 (today’s Community Room). The most obvious remnants are the church’s peaked side-wall windows with stained glass that is covered. High-up triangular windows still contain stained glass, and their patterns can be seen playing on sunny days when the troupe has matinees. The auditorium includes a 30 by 23-foot open-end stage with no stage curtain. The troupe has remodeled some portions of the building with medieval touches, but the seating area retains elements of a church. The theater includes wooden arches with decorative geometric designs on the ends and exposed beams in the sharply angled ceiling. The stage front consists of woodwork of repeated arches that looks to be repurposed wainscoting from other parts of the building. The troupe owns the building, which became its home in 1966. The Community Room serves as a gathering space for audiences prior to a performance and at intermission and for board and other internal meetings.
THE PERSON: Larger-than-life personality Robert Lee Brault was a longtime Green Bay Community Theater actor, director, scenic designer and managing director. He and his wife, Rita Brault, were mainstays from the time the troupe performed at various locations through the purchase of the present playhouse. Bob Brault died Nov. 1, 2015, in Florida at age 88. The troupe has established a special programming and education fund in his name.