Experiments: Science and humor under the lights

Paul Zindel’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, The Effect of Gamma Rays on the Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, depicts one of the most tragic mother figures in contemporary theater history. Beatrice Hunsdorfer lives in a run-down home with her two daughters and an elderly boarder and plays out the rather quiet tragedy that is her life.
Bitter, frustrated, and lonely, she offers an analysis of her own existence: If you want to know what a half-life is, just ask me. You are looking at the original half-life!
The story of the play centers partially on Beatrice’s daughter Tillie (Patricia Paisley) who finds her escape in the wonders of science and who enters the school science fair with an experiment on how gamma rays affect the maturation of marigold seeds. Zindel’s metaphor of misguided growth is clear and poignant. He admits to weeping every time he saw a production of the semi-autobiographical play.
The Horseshoe Bend Players in Scottsville bring Zindel’s characters to life in their latest production, which opens this weekend. Sea Aviar, whose local credits include Betty in Sure Thing and Meg in Crimes of the Heart, takes on the role of Beatrice. Cheri Vance portrays her older daughter, Ruth. Jeanine Regan plays Nanny, the ancient boarder.
Peter Coy, who also directed The Dining Room for Horseshoe Bend Players, again lends his talents to this play. Coy explains what drew him to this particular script: “Marigold’s is Paul Zindel’s masterpiece. He has brought to life four characters that you will never forget, each filled with dreams and hopes and needs on a searing scale.”
Zindel’s play opened to great acclaim, winning not only the Pulitzer, but also a New York Drama Critics Circle Award and an Obie. He is also well known for his novels for young adults, including The Pigman, My Darling, My Hamburger, and Pardon Me, You’re Stepping on My Eyeball.
“This play braids the family’s love and fears together in a glorious ribbon of humor that keeps their spirits alive in spite of the odds against them,” Coy says. “This fragile family creates something wonderful out of what could have been an emotional wasteland. We need more plays like this to give us all the strength to face the modern world.”

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds plays May 30-31, June 6-7, and 13-14. Victory Hall Theater, 401 Valley St., Scottsville. 8pm. With 3pm matinees on June 8 and 15. $10. 286-4765.