THESE SHINING LIVES – Written by Melanie Marnich; Directed by Kate Poling. Produced by Firehouse Theater Company (Presented at the John Hand Theater, 7653 East 1st Street, Denver) through June 8. Tickets available at 303-562-3232 or 

Those of you who have been attending Denver theatre for a while will remember Terry Dodd, long touted as one of the best directors Denver ever produced. If you enjoyed Terry’s work, you have a new director in town to follow. Kate Poling is starting what promises to be a (hopefully) long and productive career as a theatre director in Denver (hopefully). Her work with THESE SHINING LIVES shares the same warm, almost nostalgic and musical quality that brought Terry’s work to life. She moves her actors as though conducting a waltz, using space, time and speech as her tools. There is an economy and grace of movement that carries through each scene and beyond. A script that could have wallowed in its sorrow instead is presented with the joy of friendship, the happiness of a good marriage, the satisfaction of work, and the truth of laughter. Good job, Ms. Poling. Terry would have been proud of you. 

The cast she chose proved her right in her choosing. Her lead, Rachel Barkalow, embodies the fated Catherine with warmth toward her husband, joy at finding a good-paying job, disillusionment at her treatment as a worker and finally, a stoic strength at the consequences of her life. She addresses the audience as interested friends who have not heard the story before.  Her gradual descent into sadness, while hard to watch, is portrayed with honesty. As she takes on her new role as spokesperson, you root for her undying determination. 

Her partners in work and fun welcome Catherine to the workplace and share everything from gossip to bad jokes to disease. They make a good quartet with Charlotte (Babs Karney) as the wild child of the bunch, Frances (Gabby Mann), the “moral compass” that keeps them in line and on track, and Pearl (Shyan Rivera) as the teller of bad jokes with the gentlest heart of all. Each woman brings a distinctive personality to their roles. Together they share the story with the audience, even stepping into supporting roles as newscasters and the judge at an early trial. 

The two remaining cast members are Joey Torrison who plays Tom, Catherine’s loving husband, as well as later becoming the doctor who finally tells them the truth in a devastating scene. Tom’s confrontation with the factory manager illustrates his frustration and pain eloquently. Matt Hindmarch also plays multiple roles as the factory manager who does as he is told and other assorted bad guys. Together the five cast members move around Catherine setting furniture, comforting, and telling their part of her story. It is this moving about to get to the next part of the story while maintaining their basic characters that is so touching to behold. They are not just setting up the next scene efficiently; they are preparing the next part of Catherine’s story. It’s as though they are saying to her “We’re here for you” in everything they do.  

The simplest and most effective of sets consisting of two platforms, basic furniture (including work desks with ominous glowing paint pots), and clocks of every size makes the subtle point of precious time passing. The triumvirate design team from Firehouse, Jeff Jesmer as designer/builder, Megan Davis as scenic painter, and Rick Reid as projection and sound master, created another effective and meaningful acting space for the cast. They were augmented in this production with Samantha Piel collecting the props that gave the ghastly green glow to their workspace, Rachel Finley who created appropriate 1930’s clothing for everyone and Emily Maddox who brings the shine to every production. 

You have three more weekends to catch this all-too-meaningful tale of corporate greed and the ones who pay the price. Try not to think about Big Pharma and the cost of medicine, the profits garnered by the oil companies as they raise the price of gas at will, the misused Covid funds, and your own personal examples of corporate greed as you watch. 

If you find this a “glowing” review, there’s a good reason. This cast literally shines! 

A WOW factor of 8.75! 

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