WBU theatre season finale is dramatic family tale

April 14, 2009

By Teresa Young

PLAINVIEW – The final production of the Wayland Baptist University theatre season has a few distinctions.
            First, the title is one of the longest for an American author, and the second is the all-female cast, which hasn’t happened on the WBU stage for more than a decade. And the addition of a furry cast member isn’t a common occurrence either.
            But all those are just coincidences for a play that director Dr. Marti Runnels said has much merit on its own as just an amazing play, albeit a heavy one in terms of content.
           Beatrice, left, played by Laura Coleman, shoves her daughter Ruth (Corinna Browning) during a confrontation in the family home. Daughter Tillie (Lesley Gatlin) watches in the background. The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Paul Zindel, will take the Harral Studio Theatre stage April 23-26 to close out the 2008-09 season for Wayland, with five theatre majors handling the acting duties.
            The play, Runnels said, is a pretty dramatic tale of a mother and her two daughters, both struggling to overcome the dysfunctional situation in which they find themselves. Tillie Hunsdorfer, played by freshman major Leslie Gatlin of Graham, is engrossed in her science fair experiment involving raising marigolds from radioactive seeds. Sister Ruth, played by freshman major Corinna Browning of Channing, reacts differently to their alcoholic, abusive and controlling mother Beatrice, played by theatre major Laura Coleman. Fellow classmate Janice, played by sophomore major Amanda Allen of Merkel, adds drama to the science fair, while Nanny, an elderly boarder at the Hunsdorfer home played by new major Rachel Janney of Turkey, illustrates Beatrice’s twisted mind.

Tillie, right, played by Lesley Gatlin, introduces Peter the rabbit to the family’s elderly boarder, Nanny, played by Rachel Janney.
            While definitely not a play for young children, Runnels said Gamma Rays has merit in several areas.
            “I always look among the Pulitzer Prize list for plays because I want my students to do the best stuff,” he said of choosing the play. “In style, this play is very much like Tennessee Williams, very poetic and dark. Paul Zindel’s name may not ring a bell, but this is the kind of play this is.”
            While the storyline seems depressing, Runnels adds, “This is not a play without any hope or light at the end of the tunnel by any means. The daughter’s work with her science project mirrors the life with her mother, but she believes there is good in everyone.”
            Runnels said the play presents some challenges, especially with Thumper, the female rabbit that plays a “supporting actress” role in the play and a significant part in the drama. He opted for a real animal for the scenes, ignoring the old theatre adage, “Never work with children or animals.” And despite a few scratches as the cast and crew become accustomed to Thumper –and vice versa – the experience hasn’t been all that bad.
            The rabbit came to live in Runnels’ office after spring break in order to acclimate to the Harral setting, and she makes appearances at each rehearsal to further familiarize her with the actors and the stage experience. Browning’s family, who raises rabbits, provided the albino co-star from their cages.
            Theatre major Rachel Morgan, who co-starred with Runnels in the homecoming musical Man of La Mancha in February, is serving as assistant director for the production in fulfillment of her directing class credit. New major Adam Maddox is stage manager. Rounding out the crew heads are Rachel Steed, makeup; Rita Cox, hair; Dede Runnels, costumes; Michael Callahan, props; Thomas Hoffman, sound; and Jake Miser, lights.
            The play will be performed at 8 p.m. on April 23, 24, and 25 and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 26. Tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for students. Reservations can be made by calling the theatre box office at 291-1089.