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

By: Mitchell Markey

This past weekend, the Southwestern Theatre Department  performed their  first play of the year in the black box theatre. It was a small four person play, and because it was performed in the black box, the actresses had limited space and were face to face with the audience. I was engaged from the start. Since the actresses were so close to the audience, the play felt very interactive to me. I really felt as though I was absorbed in the story, which is a feeling I usually don’t feel in a large auditorium with a large cast.

The play takes place in the 1960’s in a small town,  lower middle class household of a very dysfunctional family.  The main character of the play is Tillie, played by first year student Alejandra Reyes Salinas, a very intelligent young girl who has a passion for science. Tillie tries to cope with her unstable household while becoming very successful in the school science fair with her experiment testing marigold seeds exposure to radioactivity. Throughout the play, Tillie is  abused by her mother Beatrice, played by sophomore Meret Slover, an alcoholic and morbidly insecure women. She also has to deal with the erratic behavior of her sister, Ruth, played by first-year, Emily Blakley.
The play had its fair share of dark moments. The dialogue between Emily and Meret as mother and daughter was great. Both actresses continuously engaged in verbal battles with each other, with one always trying to degrade the other. Both were able to reach emotional states that were both dramatic and exciting at the same time.

The play was also really funny as well. Each of the actresses had great comedic timing.   A great example of this was the nanny, played by first-year Christian Erben. The nanny is an elderly women living with Tillie and her family. The nanny serves as almost comedic relief to the dramatic scenes.  I found her character very interesting. She was also verbally abused by Beatrice but didn’t say a word  for the entirety of the play, even when witnessing the harsh moments that took place in the household. Christian Erben also played the role of Janice, Tilla’s competition in the science fair. Janice is a strange girl who boiled the skins of a cat for the science fair. Her character is hilarious and has a very long comedic monologue. Christian’s transitioning of characters in the short amount of time given was very impressive and I look forward to seeing her act in future performances.

The play also hints on social commentary about the time period. Tillie was unique for her time. She was  a driven young woman who wanted to follow her dreams. Whereas Beatrice never leaves the house nor has ever left her town. In a way, Beatrice represented  society as a whole. The very intellect of her daughter was threatening, therefore she continued to find ways to degrade her daughter to the point of having her give up. Alejandra did a great job of making the character likable. She brought an optimistic outlook to the character, which left the audience rooting for her.  She also had great moments where she said nothing and her facial expressions said enough.

The character development in this play was also terrific. The characters all seemed very real and the audience had moments to sympathize with each character. The play touched  on many themes including family, insecurities, inspiration, and ambition.

The backstage crew also deserves credit because the lighting really set the tone for the dark moments of the play. I think some of the very emotional scenes were made more effective without the assistance of the backstage crew.

I want to note that the actresses of this play were fantastic and all underclassmen!  They all had great chemistry which is needed in a small performance like this. I am glad I attended this performance and I’m excited for future performances by the Southwestern’s Theatre Department.