Tillie’s hell

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

<i>The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.</i>

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

Rated 4.0

When Ray Tatar recently retired from the California Arts Council, you’d think he’d be looking forward to a life of leisure. Instead, the California Stage artistic director is busy expanding his theater empire.

California Stage already has two theaters on its 25th Street site—the 50-seat California Stage and the 80-seat Space stage around back near the light-rail lines. Last weekend, Tatar unveiled his newest stage—a 30-seat yet-to-be-named theater converted from storage space at the same location of his other two theater endeavors. Tatar says he wants to use this smaller space for workshops and more intimate productions.

An example of this smaller-is-better approach is the choice for the theater’s debut—a production of a somewhat forgotten play—The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Although the play by Paul Zindel won the 1971 Pulitzer Prize for drama, it’s rarely produced these days. Of course, one of the main reasons may be that the story by Zindel, known for his dark, dysfunctional family stories with a perceptive teen protagonist, is just so damned depressing. But with the small venue and sympathetic cast, it’s a play that really resonates.

Tillie is the shy teen science nerd who is dealing with an abusive, alcoholic mother and a sarcastic older sister. Add to the mix an elderly boarder and a poor pet bunny, all who suffer the wrath of an increasingly cruel mother, and life becomes hell for Tillie. Under the careful direction of Penny Meagher, the sensitive cast—including Deborah Shalhoub as the horrible mom and two talented young actors, Jackie O’Brien and Carissa Meagher, as her abused daughters—makes you really care about all the characters.