Toxicity and Gamma Rays
Toxicity and The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the Moon Marigolds
Six amazing actresses (in alternating casts) performed in the latest Sayville Players production of the January Theatre Laboratory. The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the Moon Marigolds, Paul Zindel’s Pulitzer-Prize winning drama, is a psychologically gut-wrenching study of family dynamics between a widow and her two teenage daughters.
More destructive than gamma rays on marigolds is head-of-the-household Beatrice Hunsdorfer (masterfully played with snarky wit by Emily Llewellyn and acerbic cynicism by Rowen Mahoney). The widowed mother of two teenage daughters has a toxic personality, and depending on each actress’ performance style, Sayville audiences either laughed to mollify the biting sarcasm or cowered before it. Painfully aware of her half-life state, Beatrice retaliates deplorably in the way she treats her daughters, her elderly tenant, people in general--all her problems. How she became this way unfolds as the play progresses.
Eldest daughter Ruth Hunsdorfer (aptly feisty and spirited in the performances shared by both Angelina Keller and Jessica Leigh-Manuell) has suffered terribly from the trauma of witnessing death, coupled with a home-life wrecked by the loony mood swings of her mother. Struggling against a fate like her mother’s and trying to survive despite her own phobias, Ruth maintains a veneer of normalcy and roams with the popular crowd at school. However, at home, she defensively asserts with youthful exuberance blistering 'attitude,' successfully pressing her mother’s buttons.
Sweet, socially withdrawn, with a tendency toward escapism, Matilda Hunsdorfer (credibly portrayed with saintly serenity and stubborn hope by both Dea Ahlgrim and Dara Scolnick) is the budding genius who finds beauty and wonder in the dispassionate sciences. Unlike her mother and sister, her dreamy fascination with science not only shields her from the damaging effects of their desperate poverty, but elevates her away from the earthbound pessimism that permanently mires her family. Matilda is right to have hope. When her school science research project: the effect of gamma rays on Man-in-the Moon marigolds, wins First Place, her triumph can mean escape to a better life.
Minor characters included nonverbal Nanny (on alternating nights played with realistic dementia and tremors by Emily Llewellyn and Rowen Mahoney), and Janice Vicery, the runner-up science competitor (also played on alternating nights by Dea Ahlgrim and Dara Scolnick) who is obviously more privileged and conceited than Matilda.
While this profound drama draws upon an emotional depth and understanding to render its characters fully, the Sayville Players met the challenge with remarkable aplomb. Congratulations go to each of the six performers who breathed life into such difficult characters, as well as to the behind-the-scenes support from Director/Producer Steve Hailey and crew!