The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

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The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds
Written by Paul Zindel
Characters Beatrice
Tillie
Janice Vickery
Nanny
Ruth
Date premiered April 7, 1970
Place premiered Mercer-O'Casey Theatre
New York City, United States
Original language English
Genre Drama
Setting the home of Beatrice
IBDB profile

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds is a 1964 play written by Paul Zindel, a playwright and science teacher. Zindel received the 1971 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for the work. The play's world premiere was staged in 1964 at the Alley Theatre in Houston,[1] after which it premiered in New York City Off Broadway. It was adapted for the screen in 1972, directed by Paul Newman and starring his wife Joanne Woodward, daughter Nell Potts, and Roberta Wallach, daughter of Eli Wallach. Woodward won the award for Best Actress at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival.[2]

Plot[edit]

The play revolves around the dysfunctional family consisting of single mother Beatrice and her two daughters, Ruth and Tillie, who try to cope with their abysmal status in life. The play is a lyrical drama, reminiscent of Tennessee Williams' style.[citation needed]

Shy Matilda "Tillie" Hunsdorfer prepares her experiment, involving marigolds raised from seeds exposed to radioactivity, for the science fair. She is, however, constantly thwarted by her mother Beatrice, who is self-centered and abusive, and by her extroverted and unstable sister Ruth, who submits to her mother's will. Over the course of the play, Beatrice constantly tries to stamp out any opportunities Tillie has of succeeding, due to her own lack of success in life. As the play progresses, the paths of the three characters diverge: Tillie wins the science fair through perseverance; Ruth attempts to stand up to her mother but has a nervous collapse at the end of the play, and Beatrice—driven to the verge of insanity by her deep-seated enmity towards everyone—kills the girls' pet rabbit Peter and ends up wallowing in her own perceived insignificance. Despite this, Tillie (who is much like her project's deformed but beautiful and hardy marigolds) secretly continues to believe that everyone is valuable.[citation needed]

Characters[edit]

Matilda "Tillie" Hunsdorfer
The main protagonist of the play. A quiet and introverted character who is teased at school. She copes with her life by immersing herself in science, hoping to reach a philosophical epiphany. Her untiring quest for her individuality stands in open defiance of her mother's wish for total control over the family. Because of this, she receives the brunt of the abuse. Tillie also owns a rabbit named Peter, given to her by her science teacher, Mr. Goodman.
Ruth Hunsdorfer
Tillie's older sister. A brash but confused adolescent, she looks to others for advice, but often gains this insight from Beatrice. Although abused as well, she often bends to her mother's will, putting her in her favor and sheltering her from the full extent of her abuse. On many occasions, she attempts to make Tillie look like the crazy one, even though she herself underwent psychiatric treatment. She also takes a liking to Tillie's pet rabbit, to the point where she blackmails Tillie for possession of Peter, and threatens to kill her mother if she harms him. There is evidence in the story suggesting that Ruth may have epilepsy.
Beatrice Hunsdorfer
Tillie's and Ruth's mother. A single mother whose life has gone awry, she copes with it through self-loathing, cynicism, and drug abuse, and by verbally (and at times physically) abusing her two daughters. As the play's main antagonist, Beatrice is mainly narcissistic, domineering, and lethally short-tempered, which is only worsened by the drugs. However, her plight is sympathetic, as her past reveals a life spiraling steadily downward from serendipitous circumstances, leading her to self-destruction.
Mr. Goodman
Tillie's science teacher. He serves as a mentor to Tillie. Mr. Goodman is mentioned on many occasions, but never seen, although the dialogue often implies that he is the only positive role model in Tillie's life.
Nanny
An elderly boarder in the Hunsdorfer household. Silent throughout, she doesn't contribute much beyond being yet another burden to the already stressed-out Beatrice who verbally abuses her as she does her daughters.
Mr Frank
Beatrice's father. A deceased vegetable vendor. After his wife (Beatrice's mother) died, he raised Beatrice on his own. Although he had a lowly status, Beatrice holds him in high regard—"He makes up for all the men in the world"—and smiles imagining her daughters meeting him.
Janice Vickery
Tillie's rival at the science fair. Her experiment involved boiling the skin off a dead cat so she may use its skeleton. She plans to use a dog in her next science fair project.

Film adaptation[edit]

Paul Newman produced and directed a film adaptation of the play from a screenplay by Alvin Sargent. Newman cast his wife, Joanne Woodward, and one of their daughters, Nell Potts, in two of the lead roles.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "World Premieres: A Selection". www.alleytheatre.org. Retrieved 2011-03-06. 
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 

External links[edit]