Family Matters In 'Marigolds'
Strong Performances, Direction Leave Audience Rattled
Published: Sunday, November 20, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Escapism is a slippery slope. When watching a movie or a play or a television show, most people want to shut off their brain for an hour or two and immerse themselves in a world not their own. However, The Effects of Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds refuses to allow the audience members or the cast to escape the frequently dark, and always strictly honest portrayal of a family that is as dysfunctional as it is common. Particularly from the holidays approaching, it is impossible to detangle one's personal family memories with the alternately loving and caustic interactions of Beatrice (Juliana Forseberg-Lary A&S, '12) and her daughters, the older, high-strung Ruth (Deirdre McCourt, A&S '12) and the younger, quietly brilliant Matilda, or Tillie (Shannon DeBari, LSOE '13).
Marigolds is anchored in the sadly realistic portrayal of a family of women who are left alone after Beatrice's lackluster husband has a heart attack. Although it is set on Staten Island in the 1970s, only the clothes explicitly dictate the setting because Beatrice's struggles – as a single mother who never got over the cruelty of other students in high school and takes out her life frustrations on her daughters – are unfortunately always prevalent. As the familytries to move forward throughout the play, Beatrice imagines various ways of reinventing herself (from being a real estate owner to changing their home into a tea shop) but can never actually do anything since she is paralyzed by fear of failure and set in her habit of providing for Ruth and Tillie by taking in elderly people to earn $50 a week. During the play, Beatrice's current tenant is the humorous, yet pitiable Nannie (Maggie Kearnan, A&S '14) whom Beatrice mocks. While Beatrice is stuck in her loop of self-pity and inescapable circumstances, her daughters are trying to break out of the cycles of their own lives. Ruth inherits her mother's vivacity, but is subject to fits and convulsions when faced with death or nightmares. Tillie, alternately, inherits her mother's oddness in the best way possible. Though Beatrice fought the taunts of school children who called her a ‘Loon' by trying to be popular and a dancer, Tillie revels in her unique love for and abilities in science, ultimately creating an experiment eponymous to the play and winning first prize at the science fair during the climax of the play.
While all of the performances are impressive – especially since such a small cast demands perfection from each of its players – DeBari steals the show in her subtle, yet captivating performance of the shy, brilliant Tillie. Because she is so introverted, Tillie has the fewest lines of the three lead women. However, DeBari has her actions speak volumes in the way that Tillie quietly hunches her shoulders away from her sarcastic mother, protecting her fragile blossom of confidence, or allows her sister to continue painfully fixing her hair because it was a peace gesture between the two.
Not that the audience could ignore any of the other four performances. Forseberg-Lary captivated at all times, both because Beatrice's need for attention and validation and because Forseberg-Lary made the remarkable task of crafting a frustrating yet funny character look effortless. One of the most entrancing moments of the play is Beatrice's interaction with Ruth after a nightmare. Although it is easy to hate Beatrice for telling her daughters they weigh her down in life, she pulls through in this moment of need and calms Ruth's wild fears, sharing moments of her youth while the pair are curled up on the couch. Similarly, McCourt does an incredible job balancing the nearly bipolar nature of Ruth, swinging from the scared child to a vindictive adult who manipulates Tillie and will say anything, no matter how cruel, to get what she wants from her mother.
Though silent, Kearnan's Nannie is the funniest character of the whole play right from her extended entrance, hobbling down the stairs until she reaches one impassable step with her walker and looks around expectantly, obviously confident that the world will take care of her. Last, but not least, even Sarah Mass (A&S '15) makes an impact with her quite short role of Janice: a snotty, confident girl who goes up against Tillie in the science fair and embodies everything that the brainy Tillie is not in confidence and looks.
The entirety of Marigolds fits together with an impressive cohesiveness that makes student director Marc Franklin (A&S '12) worthy of applause in this senior project. The casting alone speaks volumes about Franklin's abilities, but more importantly he drew out the character's personalities with little details, such as a surround-sound, futuristic voiceover at the beginning of the play wherein Tillie is given voice to expostulate about the beauty of the word ‘atom' in a dramatic and sonorous way. The set (designed by Nancy McNamee, A&S '12) likewise enables the actors to explore their characters fully as Beatrice could pace and run from corners of her mind while Ruth could make the living room her stage for her quotidian tales. The only difficulty in combing the directing and set was that a few crucial moments of the play – including Tillie's absorbed work with her marigolds and Ruth's seizure at the end – were difficult to see because they were placed at the front of the set, and blocked by front row audience members due to the tight knit quarters of Bonn Theater.
This transient frustration aside, The Effects of Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds is an impressive endeavor that both breaks your heart and mends it, and is guaranteed to stay with you after the final bows.