Wednesday, September 6, 2017

“Marigolds” Flourish Under Lutfy’s Direction at Cygnet

Most of us know that watering and feeding our plants and flowers will produce expected results. Add some love, kind words and the results are beyond expectations, mostly positive. The same can be said about people in general and family relationships in particular.

Replace one of those elements, say love, and introduce radioactive ingredients or poisonous elements like enmity, oppression and suffocation and what you have is Paul Zindel’s 1960’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, “The Effect of Gamma Rays On Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds”.

Dusted off and deftly directed by Rob Lutfy, "Marigolds" is long overdue for another look-see and Cygnet Theatre in Old Town is more than up to the challenge.

Abby Depuy as Tillie 
The last time this reviewer saw a production of ‘Gamma Rays’ is past my memory lifeline. Thankfully, it is currently being given another chance for yours truly to renew an old acquaintance in this powerful, poignant and resolute showing on Cygnet Theatres Stage through Sept. 24th. Newcomers welcome.

Paul Zindel, playwright and science teacher won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the work in 1971where it premiered at The Alley Theatre in Houston.

It’s an autobiographical work, and an experiment the science teacher himself oversaw at an actual Science Fair Project in ‘which his student monitored irradiated seeds of the golden marigold’.
Abby Depuy, Rachel Esther Tate and Deanna Driscoll
 The play parallels the lives of a family struggling to find some tangible ground in which to function in a dysfunctional family environment.

The metaphor is not a subtle one by any stretch of the imagination, in the play nor as described in the program notes by dramaturg Tim West, who goes into some detail about Zindel’s own upbringing and the dysfunction of his own family, and particularly his mother, that also parallels the family in his play.

Opening onto set designer Charles Murdock Lucas’ outrageously messy and disorganized home (a once old vegetable store) with a room off to one side where Nanny (Carm Greco), the elderly border lives bringing some income into the household, a main room that is filled with notebook papers, school books, a cage holding a rabbit, an out of whack living room/kitchen with a hot plate and running water and stairway leading to upstairs bedrooms, and with windows covered in old newspapers, an enthusiastic Tillie (Abby Depuy) bounces in like a ray of sunshine (lighting designer Connor Mulligan) listening to her voice on a recording. (Kevin Anthenill, sound design)
Deanna Driscoll, Abby Depuy and Rachel Esther Tate
“He told me part of my hand came from a star that exploded long ago, another part from a tongue of fire, some tiny part from was on the sun itself exploded and whirled into a great storm; a whisper of earth, a fern that was crushed, and diamonds millions of years later. And then to the audience “and he called this bit of me an atom… What a beautiful word.”

Tillie is a science wiz and has the admiration and trust of her science teacher, Mr. Goodman. At home she is ridiculed, abused, battered and scorned by her radioactive mother Beatrice (Deanna Driscoll) whose dreams were never fulfilled and who cannot conceive that her daughter is worthy of anyone’s praises, particularly a teacher’s.

Making her debut with Cygnet, this fourteen -year old homeschooled youngster, Abby Depuy, hits the nail on the head in her portrayal of an abused young person who chose to take another path to keeping her sanity with her undying curiosity in the field of science.

“…my experiment made me feel important-every atom in me…Atom. What a wonderful word.”

Tillie’s older sister Ruth (Rachel Esther Tate) fading under the distress of her mother’s poisonous abuse, is an epileptic who at times mimics her mother’s tone on Tillie and in more forgiving language tries to aid and abet her younger sister by encouraging her, but that is shot lived. One wonders if anything save the experimental marigold’s can thrive under this roof.  

In another outstanding performance (“Stupid Fuc*ing Bird) Tate has the distinguished task of pivoting from high school girl concerned with what her peers have to say, to wanna be grownup plastering her mother’s lipstick on thicker than needed to sharing her cigarettes with an adult acting more juvenile than herself, to badgering her younger sister.
Deannea Driscoll and Rachel Esther Tate
Dressed in a nightgown and robe (Shelly Williams) throughout the first act Driscoll, in this prized performance, digs into the role of Beatrice like a subterranean termite digs in to a piece of wood determined to shred and destroy any piece of humanity from the bottom up.

Seldom does she show signs of caring, and when she does they are few and far between, followed by a barrage of criticisms and putdowns. “I don’t like the idea of everyone laughing at you, because when they laugh at you they are laughing at me.”

 “I’m stuck with one daughter with half a mind; another one who’s half a test tube; half a husband- half a house full of rabbit crap-and half a corpse.” “Everything I wanted to be exploded.” Beatrice channeled by Driscoll who is simply outstanding as the offender and offended in this highly charged repugnant yet hopeful character study maintains character throughout.

Depuy's Tillie is the hope for the future, emerging as  a winner in every sense of the word.
Abby Depuy as Tillie
 Her Marigold experiment wins first place copping out the competition of the beautifully composed yet comical Janice Vickery (Michelle Marie Trester) whose experiment included getting a Tabby cat from the ASPCA and boiling it in sodium hydroxide …anyway the skeleton now on display with some missing bones, was the result of her science project.

At the play’s end I almost wanted to get into bed and cover my head and not think about the abusive behavior just seen. On rethinking I had to bring Tillie into my vision and marvel at the strength of this young girl’s ability see light, even through a prism.

Hats of to Lutfy and his committed cast!


See you at the theatre.


Dates: Through Sept. 24th
Organization: Cygnet Theatre
Phone: 619.337.1525
Production Type: Drama  
Where: 4040 Twiggs St. Old Town San Diego, CA 92110
Ticket Prices: Start at $38.00
Web: cygnettheatre.com

Photo: Daren Scott

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