Radiation: A Hopeful, Locally Written Play About Cancer

Oct 5, 2017

You don’t expect much humor in a hospital waiting room, but “Radiation” by local playwrights Deborah Ann Percy and Arnie Johnston has humor and hope. 


It’s about a woman named Barb Brunetti who goes to radiation treatment five days a week - and the ladies she meets in the waiting room. “Radiation” will be at the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre through October 15th. Click here for tickets.

The cast of "Radiation" at the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre

It’s based on Percy’s experience with breast cancer. She says, unlike chemo treatments, the radiation waiting room is more “lively.”

“You’re there with the same people day after day, you get to know each other, it’s all positive. There’s a lot of courage and grace," says Percy.

“We actually were able to turn a bad experience into something I hope will have good consequences in the world,” says Johnston - Percy's husband and co-playwright.

One could argue it already has. A few years ago the West Michigan Cancer Center sponsored staged readings of the play.

“They did a before and after questionnaire and then they showed that the play had actually changed some opinions. And for many women it relieved some of their anxiety," says Percy. "A couple of them came up and said I’m starting radiation in a few days and it’s not quite as scary as it was.”

Percy and Johnston have waived royalties for the play whenever it’s used to benefit cancer research or education - much like their short play on Alzheimer’s “Steering Into The Skid.”

“It’s useful for fundraising because it doesn’t take up a whole evening," says Johnston. "We hope that this play too can be used in that way.”

Though Percy took pieces of the play from her experience in the waiting room, she says none of the characters are based on real people.

“Writing a play in a lot of ways is like stitching a quilt," says Johnston. "You take scraps from here and scraps from there and you sew them into a pattern.”

Actress Marissa Harrington plays the main character, Barb. She says she’s 34, the same age as Barb as she goes through breast cancer treatment.

“There’s this misconception that only people of a certain age or certain health, stamina, or whatever you want to call it - it only hits certain people. And so they wanted to show with this play that it can touch anyone," she says.

"I think it’s very powerful for me to be among this group of ladies that are all different ages, different backgrounds, different styles and all pulling together through this really tough time.”

Harrington says sure, there are some sad moments. It's about cancer after all. 

“But overall, I mean, it’s hopeful - it’s a very very hopeful message," she says.

The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre’s production of “Radiation” is almost sold out. You can find tickets here.