Paul Zindel’s thought provoking, Pulitzer Prize winning play, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, is a touching story of a family whose members alternately support and tear down one another. It’s the current production at IU.
The play’s haunting title comes from the ugly duckly daughter Tillie’s winning science fair project. In addition to Tillie there is the pretty daughter Ruth, the beaten down single mother Beatrice and Nanny, the current elderly boarder that is the family’s sole means of support. Although … Marigolds … is on the IU Theatre’s mainstage, director Dennis Black and his cast are presenting an intimate evening with a show that draws the audience in.
The Hunsdorfer apartment is a place of death for the aged boarders and it’s not much healthier for the rest of the family. The mother, Beatrice, is a sad, bitter, moody woman who lives in erratic dreams and frequently takes her own troubles out on her daughters. Mostly Beatrice wanders the apartment dressed in a robe, curlers and an endless progression of cigarettes. Carolyn Klein played the ups and downs of Beatrice with raw nerved control. Carol Enoch played Ruth, the favored daughter at least in the first act. Ruth’s favor comes from her ability to realize some of her mother’s high school dreams and from a knack, literally, for scratching her mother’s back. Enoch navigated the shifts in Ruth’s fortunes neatly. The younger daughter, Tillie, played by Melissa Nedell is a sort of Cinderella figure. But, instead of a fair godmother, she has a science teacher and a flat of mutant marigolds to take her to the ball. Nedell succeeded in making Tillier sympathetic without being either overly comatose or enthusiastic. Kate Wasson had a brief, but memorable appearance as one of Tillie’s competitors in the school science fair. Kate Braun played the feeble old boarder, Nanny. Braun was so effective as she fumbed and stumbled her way around that it was a shock to see her bound out on stage for the curtain call.
Throughout the production of … Marigolds… the audience was held in a skillfully maintained, but uneasy balance. Although there are a lot of potentially funny moments, most of the laughs were quick and a bit nervous. Sympathies for the individual characters shifted dramatically as the story unfolded. There’s plenty of pity, a good deal of anger and even some inspiration to be had from this show.
The IU Theatre’s production of Paul Zindel’s The Efffect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds plays each evening through Saturday.