The ISU SummerStage in Terre Haute opened with Paul Zindell’s "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds" in a production directed by Arthur Feinsod.
There are three main characters, Beatrice a single mother and her high-school-age daughters, Tillie and Ruth. Beatrice supports the family by taking in elderly, near terminal, boarders. Beatrice is viciously insecure.
Her daughters bear the brunt of their mother’s moods. Ruth the brash daughter, played by Carolyn Conover, has developed some pretty hard calluses over her tender spots. She protects herself from Beatrice with either teen insolence or almost sisterly gestures. As Conover played Ruth, she’s a girl who never had a chance to develop any of herself past the level of a shallow popularity wanna-be.
Tillie, played by Kelsey Hanlon, is the shy daughter. The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds is the title of her science project. While Ruth has at least some calluses, Tillie has none. She’s all raw nerve endings. Kelsey Hanlon frightened but eagerly hopeful expression in the midst of Beatrice’s tirades is an image that stays with me.
Julie Dixon played Nanny, the elderly woman whose career minded daughter pays Beatrice to look after. Nanny gets a good deal of Beatrice’s verbal venom. Dixon doesn’t have a single line but as she shakily made her way to the table or worked to lift a cup to her lips, all eyes were on her.
Lindsey Johnson played Tillie’s competitor in the science fair, Janice Vickery. Johnson clearly had a good time playing an oblivious airhead.
Author Paul Zindell says he based Beatrice of "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds" on his own mother. Either he had some smoldering scores to settle or she was a thoroughgoing monster. Beatrice alternates between mean depressions and dizzying highs. During the depressions, she berates and undermines her daughters. During the elations she conjure up wildly improbably get-rich-schemes. Susan Monts-Bologna did a masterful job of making this near crazy woman at least occasionally sympathetic.
The ISU production of Paul Zindell’s "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds" is a skillful production of a play with a lot of truth in it. It plays in the evenings at seven-thirty on Wednesday the 18th, and Tuesday July 1st, and in a four o’clock matinee on Sunday the 22nd. This coming weekend Yasmina Reza’s play, "Art" joins the SummerStage rotating repertoire.