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Lake Dillon presents family drama

Kimberly Nicoletti
Summit Daily/Reid WilliamsKelly Ketzenbarger, left, plays Beatrice, a bitter, single mother who favors Ruth (Debbie Swartz) over her other daughter (Celsea Novotny, not shown).
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DILLON – Before the recovery movement of the 1980s popularized sharing childhood feelings, Paul Zindel placed experiences with his dysfunctional family on stage for anyone to see.

Zindel’s “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds” premiered in 1966, and by 1968 it aired on public television.

It won the 1971 Pulitzer Prize, the Obie Award and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award as Best American Play of the season.

Critics hailed it as one of the most significant and affecting plays of the time. And now, the Lake Dillon Theatre presents a four-week run of it.

The all-women play portrays a resentful, single mother raising two daughters and caring for an elder.

Kelly Ketzenbarger (who played the neurotic woman in “The Nerd” and the male character Clove in “Endgame”) brings a subtly powerful bitterness to her role as Beatrice by balancing explosive and implosive anger.

Beatrice lost her dream of being a dancer when her father became ill and begged her to marry so she had someone to take care of her. Now divorced and widowed, she looks after a disabled woman (played by Suzanne Pedersen, who, even without lines, commands attention as an actress).

Beatrice inflicts her misery on her daughters, favoring one and keeping the other from school.

Summit High School student Celsea Novotny plays Tillie, a mousy girl who distracts herself from her mother’s wrath by focusing on science experiments. Her latest interest lies in the effect of varying degrees of radiation on marigolds.

While some actors who auditioned for the play brought a harshness to the lines by yelling, the three chosen women (Ketzenbarger, Novotny and Debbie Swartz) juxtapose the anger with tender moments, said Chris Alleman, artistic director of Lake Dillon Theatre.

“The cast started out close,” Alleman said. “They had worked together before, so we were able to create this dynamic.”

As Beatrice and her favored daughter, Ruth, talk one late night on the couch, their love for each other is as convincing as any real-life mother and daughter relationship.

Beatrice elicits compassion as she asks her daughter, “What’s left for me, Ruth?” In that moment, we see not a tyrannical mother but a lost soul.

Director Josh Blanchard (of “Bat Boy – the Musical” and “The Nerd” fame) lobbied to produce the show because it hit home for him.

“It’s a beautiful story of growth and overcoming hardship,” Blanchard said. “My vision was to show how the science project serves as a catalyst for Tillie to overcome the family dysfunction – to play against the stereotypes and create a family who creates wonderful memories and who also shows a lot of (abuse).”

“Gamma Rays” depicts the strength of the human spirit against all odds.

Though the topic may not be as shocking or cutting-edge as it was in the ’70s, the family dynamics are likely to affect audiences deeply.


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