Student-run production opens at the Leary Theatre
NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. – On Friday, Feb. 24, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds had its opening performance at the Leary Theatre at Niagara University. The show was entirely student-run and featured Heather Gervasi as Tillie, Kyla Jack Farrell as Ruth, Kalee George as Beatrice, Marley Rockwood as Janice, Caroline Kolasny as the Nanny, and Cream Puff as Peter the rabbit.
A 1965 play by Paul Zindel, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds won a Drama Critics’ Circle Award and an Obie Award in 1970 as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1971. The show is also notable for its 1972 film adaptation directed by Paul Newman.
The play tells a moving story about a young, shy girl named Tillie who uses science to cope with her abusive mother, Beatrice. Tillie’s pet bunny provides her with another source of comfort, as Beatrice deals with her own pain through drugs and neglecting the needs of her daughters. Tillie’s sister Ruth manages to avoid much of Beatrice’s abuse, but she suffers from seizures caused by epilepsy and often looks to Tillie for inspiration. The play has some very sad plot points, but Tillie’s courage and perseverance instill in it a sense of hope and strength.
The Effect of Gamma Rays on the Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds was incorporated into the Niagara University 2016-2017 Theatre season as the NU Players’ show. Each year, the department puts on six main shows in addition to one completely student-run production. This show is selected and run by the NU Players, a student organization that sponsors events for the theatre department as well as assists with major events on campus. In the past, the NU Players have sang at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony and at Take Back the Night. The Players’ show is the biggest project the organization tackles each year.
Carly Weldy, a junior and the Artistic Director of the NU Players, selected this year’s Players’ Show.
“I had to read so many plays,” she stated. “There was a lot of things I had to keep in mind. It had to be a show with two to five people. It needed to be doable in terms of budget and age-appropriate. There was also costuming and the set requirements to consider, as well as how possible it was for college students, who are already involved in so many other things, to take on the project. On top of that, it had to be good and moving.”
Weldy spent a while searching for the right play, and expected to choose a newer work.
“Usually the Players show has to do with contemporary theatre, but I wanted to incorporate a bigger message rather than just presenting a contemporary piece,” she explained. “I stumbled upon this show and I was immediately awestruck. When you pick the right show, you know it immediately.”
Weldy has served on the NU Players Board since her freshmen year at Niagara. This is one of the most demanding projects she has taken on while serving on the Players. While she loves the diversity of the theatre program at Niagara, she recognizes how useful her leadership role in the Players is as it forces her to experience a different side of the industry.
“One thing that we don’t have a class on is artistic directing, or the management side,” she said. “The business of it all is so important. So I jumped at this opportunity. This is one of those times that you just soak up everything you can, because it forces you to learn so much.”
Weldy is one of several students involved in this year’s Players’ show. Students have been entirely responsible for the production from set construction to paint crew to costume crew to the design team. The Players have been recruiting volunteers for the past couple of months to help make this production a memorable experience for the NU community.
The show is even student-directed. Sabrina Kahwaty, a senior theatre major, took on this task after submitting an anonymous proposal explaining her interpretation last spring. She was notified in the fall that her proposal had been selected and that she would have about a four-week rehearsal period beginning in late January.
“There’s never been a day that we didn’t discover something new,” Kahwaty explained. “The actors continue to grow every night. As long as they’re up there and really listening to each other, things can come out differently, but because they’re telling the story so honestly, it’s always justified and it’s always real. In the script, there’s so much going on beneath the surface. Digging in and figuring out the right way to tell that story, or a way to tell that story has been so gratifying.”
Aside from the complications of including a live animal on stage, building a complex set in a short amount of time, and figuring out all the lighting and makeup design technicalities, Kahwaty also remarked on the challenging nature of the play.
“It is not an easy piece to work on,” she said, “especially considering it addresses issues that many college students haven’t experienced. I think the Players’ shows have been heading in that direction for a while, with our two most recent ones covering issues such as mental illness and rape. We are trying to get at something deeper, which is definitely a direction the Players are heading in.”
Kahwaty emphasized how crucial collaboration has been to the process.
“There have been so many students working on this show in all the different areas,” she stated. “This experience has just reinforced the idea that every part of theatre is so integral to the other parts. You really can’t have one without them all. It’s a play that has required a lot of exploration on all of our parts, so working on it together has been so beneficial.”
Weldy also highlighted the importance of everybody who came together to make this show possible.
“One of my main goals for this production was for it to be a collaborative piece for our department, the campus, and the community,” she stated. “I wanted to reach out and I want everybody to know what power they have to produce something and to make something so incredible. Age and experience are no prerequisite to the power that you have.”
The next NU Players’ show will be announced this spring. Mother Hicks, the next show being presented by the theatre department, will open at the end of March.