Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Have you Hugged Your Mother Today?

Living With the Mother From Hell

By Skip Sheffield

Most of us have nothing but warm thoughts and memories of our mothers- most, not all.
“The Effects of Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds,” running through Jan. 29 at the lovely new and much larger Palm Beach Dramaworks at 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach, is about a less-than-ideal mother. You could call Beatrice Hunsdorfer the mother from hell.
Beatrice is played by Laura Turnbull, one of South Florida’s finest actresses. Furthermore her brilliant daughter Matilda is played by her own daughter, Arielle Hoffman, a senior at Coral Springs High School but a seasoned actress in her own right. Matilda’s older sister Ruth is played by Skye Coyne, another seasoned young professional.
The girls and their mother live in an unspecified town in a space that was once a vegetable store. Mother Beatrice is an embittered divorcee whose ex has since died, leaving her the sole support of her girls.
Mom ekes out a living taking in boarders. The current one is Nanny (Harriet Oser), a silent, decrepit old woman who shuffles around with the help of a walker.
The play begins with a voiceover soliloquy by Matilda on the magic and the power of the atom. It is the early 1960s, when many people thought atomic energy could be the answer to all our woes.
Matilda is using the power of the atom in a different way. With the help of her high school science teacher she has irradiated marigold seeds with gamma rays to see if the plants might mutate and grow faster and larger. It’s a science fair project that is the source of playwright Paul Zindel’s title.
A normal mother would be supportive of her daughter’s efforts to accomplish something difficult. Not Beatrice. Beatrice belittles Matilda, saying her experiment is foolish and she is awkward and unattractive.
Beatrice is not much kinder to Ruth, who has already suffered one breakdown and is fragile at best. All Ruth and her mother have in common is a fondness for cigarettes. Ruth is developing rapidly, and it is clear her mother is threatened by that.
Out of pain art can emerge. Zindel’s own home life and mother were very difficult. Through his flights of fancy he was able to soar over grim reality.
So Matilda grows in a most inhospitable climate. No matter what unspeakable cruelties her mother performs, Matilda manages to remain strong and steadfast.
It is this optimistic spirit of overcoming obstacles that perhaps inspired the committee to award Zindel the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1971.
Tough as it is, “Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds” is a thing of rough beauty and uplifting thought, performed by a dream cast, each totally immersed in her role.
Laura Turnbull usually plays sympathetic, even tragic figures. Beatrice is in a sense a tragic figure, but we are not impressed or depressed. We have seen Beatrices before in people who blame all their misfortune on others.
Stick around for the curtain call and you see a heartwarming scene of mother and daughter acknowledging the sheer joy of acting.
Tickets are $55 ($10 students). Call 561-514-4042 or go to www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.

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