The 1920s was a grand decade for women. Along with earning the right to vote, many of them also began drinking, smoking and dancing — in public. And many of them began working outside the home.
“It was a very interesting time for women in the workplace,” said Tara Burnham, who plays one of the four central characters in Melanie Marnich’s “These Shining Lives,” opening Friday at Curtain Call Theatre and running through March 23.
“Women suddenly had a lot more independence, but it wasn’t quite the norm, especially for married women, to be in the workplace. There needed to be a lot of solidarity among them.”
Burnham plays Charlotte, a single woman who works in a watch and clock manufacturing facility where the employees are required to paint the numerical values onto different sized products. Radium Dial, the name of the company, assures them there is no danger of radium poisoning, but time eventually delivers a much more truthful assessment.
‘These Shining Lives’
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 210 Old Loudon Road, Latham
WHEN: Opens at 8 p.m. Friday, and runs through March 23; performance times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $23
MORE INFO: 877-7529, www.curtaincalltheatre.com
“It becomes a fairly tragic story,” said Burnham, “and it’s based on fact. There is some fiction in there, but the stories of the women are true. Throughout the course of the play, they start experiencing some real health issues. And while they suspect their problems are work-related, they continue working for a long time before they find a doctor who’s willing to help them.”
“These Shining Lives” had its world premiere in 2008 and quickly became a popular piece of work throughout the country in regional theaters. Marnich, a resident playwright at New Dramatists in New York City since 2005, has also written for HBO’s “Big Love” and Showtime’s “The Big C.” Her other plays include “The Storm Coming” and “Cradle of Man.”
Serious but humorous
Cindy Brizzell-Bates is directing the production, which was selected for the season by Curtain Call founder and artistic director Carol Max.
“Carol picked it, and I fell in love with it as soon as I read it,” said Brizzell-Bates. “It tells such an important story, and it does so in such a delicate way. It’s very serious subject matter, but there’s also some humor in it because it’s about the relationship these women have with each other.”
Making up the cast along with Burnham are Dana Goodknight as Catherine, Sarah Wasserbach as Frances and Lydia Nightingale as Pearl.
The two men in the show are Paul Dederick, who plays Catherine’s husband, and Ted Zeltner, who plays the plant manager as well as some other characters.
“I was not familiar with the play until Carol told me about it, and she said it was a great story with great characters for female actors,” said Burnham.
“What caught my interest immediately was how moving it was. I was really drawn to all four of the female characters, but I really liked Charlotte because when I read it there were things about myself that I saw in her, and there were other aspects of her personality that were appealing to me.”
Watching Burnham in auditions, Brizzell-Bates knew almost immediately she had her Charlotte.
“Tara’s got this same wit that the character has, and this character is a little bit ahead of her time,” said Brizzell-Bates. “She’s a force of nature, yet she has a really strong heart and is really dedicated to her friends at work and her family. She believes totally in what they’re doing, and Tara just nailed that aspect of the character. She got every part of it.”
Burnham was born and raised in Loudonville and went to Shaker High School. She was greatly influenced by Phil Rice, who taught English and ran the theater program at Shaker, and has also acted and directed at Curtain Call and a number of other area theaters.
“I did a lot of high-school theater at Shaker, and then I went to Syracuse and majored in public policy and public relations,” said Burnham. “But I remained active in local theater groups, and I also did a lot of singing and dancing.”
She returned to the Capital Region from the Washington, D.C., area about six years ago and has kept busy in the local theater community performing at Hubbard Hall, Albany Civic Theater and the Not-So-Common Players along with Curtain Call. She is married and works at Media Logic in Albany.
“I try to do two or three productions a year, so I stay pretty busy,” she said. “I had been focused more on singing when I was younger, doing professional choral work and not so much theater. But I really love the theater and Curtain Call. Initially, I was involved with Curtain Call way back in high school.”
In 2011, Burnham was in “Elvis Has Left the Building” and “Sweepers” at Curtain Call, while in November of 2012 she played the part of Jacqueline in the Albany Civic Theater production of “Mrs. Mannerly.”
Curtain Call ties
Goodknight and Nightingale were in Curtain Call’s fall production of “Crimes of the Heart,” Goodknight as Babe and Nightingale as Chick. Goodknight also performed in Curtain Call’s most recent production, “Dracula,” and two years ago played Margot in “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Nightingale is a Clifton Park native and SUNY-New Paltz graduate. As a high-school senior at Shenendehowa in 2007, she had one of the featured roles in the New York State Theatre Institute’s production of “Reunion.”
Wasserbach has become something of a regular at Curtain Call, performing in “Wrong Window,” “Lend Me a Tenor” and “London Suite” in the past two years. In 2008 she also performed as Florence in Colonial Little Theatre’s production of the female version of “The Odd Couple.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]