Student-produced play brings a ‘ray’ of hope to Lehigh

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“The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds,” might initially come across as a play with a happy plot.

Reality proves to be quite the opposite.

On Friday, the Lehigh Department of Theatre premiered the play, which was written by Paul Zindel.

According to Zoellner Arts Center, the play has won the Pulitzer Prize, the Obie Award, and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best American Play in 1971.

The play tells the story of a young and brilliant girl named Matilda – often referred to as Tillie – who is suppressed by her mother’s pessimistic outlook on life. Despite her abusive mother, Beatrice, and her distraught sister, Ruth, Tillie is able to cope with her dysfunctional family with her passion for science.

Lehigh’s production was directed by Emma Gifford, ’15. This is the third play Gifford has directed at Lehigh, and although it is the first series play she has taken on, she said it is her favorite thus far. She began working on the production in June, but casting did not begin until the beginning of the semester, leaving the cast with less than a month for rehearsal.

The cast was comprised of Meghan Harris, ’15, playing Beatrice; Julia Tvardovskaya, ’16, as Tillie; Rebecca Fryer, ’17, as Ruth; Emily Drabik-Stevens, ’15, as Nanny; and Hallie Bodenstab, ’18, as Janice Vickery.

Gifford said she chose the play because it is abrasive and not nice to look at, but that it has a line of hopefulness. She said she hopes the audience relates to the characters but leaves wondering more about the play.

Harris said people will come to watch this play believing it is happy because the word “marigolds” is in its title. “However, it’s a very heavy play that has a huge buildup leading to a series of bad events,” she said.

“Typically, the man is the villain, but this play strays from the norm (as) the female (plays) the ‘bad guy,'” Harris said.

Beatrice is an abusive, rude and boisterous character. Harris said she doesn’t like many of her character’s traits but enjoyed playing the role because of how opposite her character is from her.

“Through all of the hate, there is some love in this family, which is hard to see sometimes in other shows,” she said.

Fryer said she enjoyed playing Ruth because her character demonstrates amplified emotions and occasionally acts crazy due to post-traumatic stress disorder and epilepsy. She also made sure to do ample research by watching videos and reading articles so she could play the part as real as possible, while still remaining sensitive to people with such issues, she said.

She said the most difficult part of her role was having to keep up with Ruth’s constant mood changes. By the same token, she said the mood changes demonstrate how ‘real’ of a person Ruth is, as everyone isn’t always at their best. Fryer said she was drawn to Ruth’s character because she is ‘out there’ and ‘off the beaten path.’

Bodenstab said she enjoyed playing Janice Vickery, a bubbly teenager, because her character contrasts the rest of the cast. This is Bodenstab’s first production at Lehigh.

Bodenstab said she felt honored to be able to come to Lehigh, get a part in the production and feel so welcomed by the theatre department.

The play will continue to be shown in Zoellner Arts Center at 8 p.m. from Oct. 1-3.

“I hope people take away that life is valuable and you can find beauty no matter what your family situation is,” Bodenstab said. “Even in a horrible situation, Tillie finds beauty and happiness. There is always a ray of hope no matter what.”

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