4 Community Theatre sets opening night for ‘Gamma Rays’ to Feb. 25

Seated is Nancy Lipinski in character as Beatrice, and Maia Larson as daughter Tillie, sharing a rare tender moment in one of “Gamma Rays” final scenes. (Sun Press photo by Alaina Rooker)
Seated is Nancy Lipinski in character as Beatrice, and Maia Larson as daughter Tillie, sharing a rare tender moment in one of “Gamma Rays” final scenes. (Sun Press photo by Alaina Rooker)

Year 2017 marks the beginning of 4 Community Theatre’s 19th year of performing, starting with their winter production “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds,” which hits the stage this Friday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. at Orono Middle School.

The play, directed by Jack Neveaux, centers on a dysfunctional family of three. “[The show] has humor in it, but it’s poignant, mostly. It’s trying to understand how the younger daughter avoids going crazy and falling in the trap that her mother and older sister did. Her way out is through her intellect.”

This younger daughter, named Matilda “Tillie” Hunsdorfer and played by Maia Larson, begins to explore a new love of science by entering a project into a science fair. The project, whose name lends itself to the title of the play, becomes an outlet for her in the midst of her family’s tempestuous relationship.

“I jokingly call this ‘Glass Menagerie’ on steroids,” said Neveaux. “It’s because it’s dysfunctional, the family is dysfunctional in so many ways. And it’s not as romantic as ‘Glass Menagerie’ but it’s an excellently written show.”

Hannah Paulson of Woodbury plays Janice Vickery, Tillie’s rival and morbid project presenter at the science fair. (Sun Press photo by Alaina Rooker)
Hannah Paulson of Woodbury plays Janice Vickery, Tillie’s rival and morbid project presenter at the science fair. (Sun Press photo by Alaina Rooker)

“The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds” was written in the late 1960s by Paul Zindel and performed off-broadway until 1972. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1971 and the Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best American Play in 1970. After its first 800 show run, the production had a screen adaptation directed by Paul Newman starring his wife Joanne Woodward and daughter Elinor Newman in 1972, followed by a brief Broadway stint in 1978.

4CT’s production will feature the talents of Maia Larson, Nancy Lipinski, Lilly Maeder, Margo Steffel, and Hannah Paulsen. Scenery design is by Neveaux, the stage is managed by Penn Bowen, costumes are designed by Claudia Kelly and Mary Senneka, and lights are designed by Andrew Lunceford.

The cast of five has been rehearsing since the first of the year, clocking in a total of seven weeks preparation. Director Neveaux’s method for this particular production was to “work right down to the very details at the very beginning,” he said. The play is not an easy one, he notes, and he personally has only gotten to see it once. “[We] ask questions to figure out what the characters are thinking, and why they do what they do,” Neveaux said. “The cast has been really good about getting the script out of their hands and being able to actually ‘be’ in the scene.”

What to look for

The mother-daughter dynamic is a central theme of the production, leading to many tense scenes. Pictured here is Nancy Lipinski’s Beatrice confronting her daughter, Maia Larson’s Tillie. (Sun Press photo by Alaina Rooker)
The mother-daughter dynamic is a central theme of the production, leading to many tense scenes. Pictured here is Nancy Lipinski’s Beatrice confronting her daughter, Maia Larson’s Tillie. (Sun Press photo by Alaina Rooker)

Viewers should expect to see, first and foremost, “some very strong female characters.” The cast of five is comprised of women of all ages. “We’re used to doing a show in the winter with a small cast, a little more adult participation. Up until this year, we didn’t even have any high school age. This show seemed like a great opportunity to involve them, and also connect a little more directly with the [high school] drama departments.”

The antagonist mother Beatrice, performed by Nancy Lipinski, has some scenes to look out for as well. “she has some very humorous, one-sided phone calls with the school,” said Neveaux.

This is Lipinski’s second 4 Community Theatre show, and her second time performing this play, as she had been in it many years ago. “I was one of the daughters, and now I’m playing the mother,” she said before a Thursday rehearsal.

Neveaux recommends that viewers be at least 14 and be capable of handling mature themes. “That is because of some of the intensity of some of the scenes. The dialogue between the parent and the daughters is kind of harsh sometimes,” said Neveaux. Other topics like substance abuse and mental illness are covered in the two acts.

Showtimes:

Friday Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. at Orono Middle School

Saturday Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. at Orono Middle School

Sunday Feb. 26 at 1:30 p.m. at Orono Middle School

Saturday March 4 at 7 p.m. at Delano Middle School

Sunday March 5 at 1:30 p.m. at Delano Middle School.

Tickets are $15, Seniors (age 62+) $12, and students $8. Visit www.4communitytheatre.org or call 952-449-8350 for tickets and information.