2024-07-13 10:05 AM

‘Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds’ Come to Life at Nova Nightsky Theater

Callie Stapleton as Tillie, Jaclyn Robertson as Beatrice, and Joan Evans as Nanny. (Photo: Chip Gertzog)

Nova Nightsky Theater is currently presenting Paul Zindel’s Pulitzer Prize-winning family drama, “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.” This compelling show is a highly intimate theatrical experience, with particular resonance for those who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. Written and set during this period, the play follows the lives of two early-high school age girls, Matilda (“Tillie”) and Ruth as they struggle to come of age while living with their dysfunctional mother, a widowed and financially struggling woman who has not gotten very far in life.

Indeed, the mother, Beatrice, also once attended the very same high school that her daughters do now. Beatrice suffers from a plethora of mental health issues, making life increasingly difficult for the daughters. The socially popular Tillie has a seizure condition that is aggravated by the family stress. Ruth, however, appears less affected by the family circumstances. She is gifted intellectually and displays a passion for science. However, her giftedness at first causes her to be bullied, and her mother is more interested in trying to woo Tillie’s science teacher than helping either of her daughters succeed. In spite of this, the teacher gives Tillie a set of Man-in-the-Moon marigold seeds, which Tillie uses for an important science fair project.

The acting in the show is superb. Jaclyn Robertson (who is also a co-founder of and producing director at Nova Nightsky) displays her outstanding acting abilities as Beatrice, a character who is often cruel but, due to the actress’s skill, is never completely out of reach of the audience’s sympathy. She is joined by Clare Shannon, who is excellent as the energetic and outgoing (but secretly sensitive) Ruth. Callie Stapleton is wonderful as Tillie, a character who is sometimes detached from and sometimes engaged with the world around her. Joan Evans is in fine form as Nanny, a lodger in Beatrice’s home; Nanny provides financial support for Beatrice, even as she is forced to suffer from Beatrice and her chronic mood swings. Kinsey Robertson is first rate as the comedic-yet-creepy Janice, Tillie’s science fair rival.

The direction by Jessie Roberts is superb at bringing out the themes of the play—themes of hope and despair and the mystery of how some people raised in terrible circumstances are crushed by the experiences, while others rise above them to greatness. The show may also be both validating and touching for audience members who have lived through similar events. Indeed, many of the circumstances portrayed in this fifty-year-old show foreshadowed some of the social concerns of today.

The sets with 1970s décor, magazines, and ubiquitous cigarettes and ashtrays effectively evoke that bygone era. At the same time, the intimacy of the production, with its small all-female cast preforming close to the audience, helps convey a sense of reality to the show; audience members feel as though they are a part of the story being told. It is a story told with power, one that includes aspects of the claustrophobic intimacy of a Tennessee Williams play, while leavened at times with sardonic wit.

Excellent use of lighting also helps to further the story as well as illuminate portions of the stage in such as way as to create new settings, effectively expanding the small acting space of NOVA Nightsky’s black box theater.

“The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds” is a unique and highly recommended experience. The show runs through June 30 at 1057 West Broad Street, Suite 216, in Falls Church, Virginia. Ticket information can be found at https://www.novanightskytheater.com/.





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