theater_gammarays_main
STILL GROWING Characters are like flowers in Gamma Rays.

When a group of tender seeds are exposed to toxic radiation, the ones receiving the smallest dose develop normally; those that are moderately exposed mutate into larger-than-life oddities, and the ones getting the heaviest dose wither and die. That's the finding of the science experiment that gives The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds its title.

It is also the heartbreakingly human lesson imparted by watching Paul Zindel's Pulitzer and Obie-winning play, produced by Mad Horse Theatre Company at Lucid Stage, under the direction of Chris Horton.

In an intricately run-down apartment converted from a former market (designed by Stacey Koloski), Beatrice (Christine Louise Marshall) is raising her two teenage daughters — shrinking-violet Tillie (Veronica Druchniak) and her older sister, the mercurial Ruth (Ruth Gray) — with an attitude that could easily be called radioactive. Self-absorbed, neglectful, and angry at the world, Beatrice is also mocking and belittling of her daughters — and, as written, even more darkly menacing when she's been drinking.

She blames her daughters for her life not turning out how she hoped: widowed, unemployed, and forced to take in elderly boarders on the brink of death for the pittance of cash it earns, Beatrice goes so far as to call her children "two stones around her neck."

In a play that is as allegorical as it is expository, it is the radioactive Beatrice herself who lives a self-professed "half-life," and condemns her daughters to the same. She cuts them in half with her mockery; she keeps the bright, science-fascinated Tillie home from school; she allows Ruth to discover one of the boarders dead — a trauma that gives Ruth recurring convulsions.

When Tillie is announced as a finalist in the school science fair, Ruth becomes her biggest cheerleader, berating her mother with excitement about the family's sole success. The revelation also ignites a spark of pride in Beatrice, brightening her countenance — until her past returns to haunt her, extinguishing the flame and sending the family into a deeper spiral as the play ends.

The contrast between Beatrice's moods, however, is not as sharp as it could be; Marshall's character is too upbeat at the beginning — and not in the "killing with kindness" sort of way that would end up making her creepier. She's also not dark enough in the middle and the end, leaving the menacing shifts largely in the audience's interpretation of the language, rather than in the emotional energy coming from the stage.

When Nanny (Muriel Kenderdine) appears, serving the play only as an early target for Beatrice's scorn and derision — the role has no lines, and only a couple of facial expressions: blankness, and a smile (twice) — Marshall's tone and face are too friendly to give weight to her biting threats and scorn. And a laugh line about murdering the family pet and causing Ruth more convulsions got some chuckles, but carried none of the sinister intimidation it should have dripped with.

1  |  2  |   next >
  Topics: Theater , Muriel Kenderdine, Chris Horton, Mad Horse Theatre Company,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY JEFF INGLIS
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   PORTLAND VS. HER PEOPLE  |  March 19, 2014
    This city, which all agree is lucky to have so many options, has leaders who do not behave as if they have any choice at all. To the frustration of the citzenry, the City Council and the Planning Board often run off with the first partner who asks for a dance.
  •   LEARNING FROM FAIRPOINT'S DISASTERS  |  March 06, 2014
    Two bills before the Maine legislature seek to pry lessons from the hard time FairPoint has had taking over the former Verizon landline operations in Maine since 2009.
  •   BEYOND POLITICS  |  March 06, 2014
    Today’s US media environment might well seem extremely gay-friendly.
  •   THE ONLINE CHEF  |  February 27, 2014
    It turns out that home-cooked scallops are crazy-easy, super-delicious, and far cheaper than if you get them when you’re dining out.
  •   RISE OF THE E-CURRENCIES  |  February 12, 2014
    Plus: Is Rhode Island ready for Bitcoin? Two perspectives

 See all articles by: JEFF INGLIS