Paul Zindel 1936-
Zindel is an award-winning playwright who received a Pulitzer prize, Obie Award, and New York Drama Critics Circle Award for The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. In many of his plays Zindel depicts troubled characters based on people from his own life, most notably his mother. Though he is also a celebrated novelist for young adults, Zindel considers himself foremost a dramatist, commenting that, "A person is bora with a disposition for one type of expression. For me, it was playwriting."
Zindel and his sister were raised by their eccentric mother, whose husband abandoned the family while Zindel was a young boy. Her occupations included real estate broker, collie breeder, and caregiver for the terminally ill—a line of work that Zindel later depicted as the career of some of his characters. Due to his mother's nomadic nature, Zindel spent most of his childhood changing residences on Staten Island. He therefore found it difficult to maintain friendships and sought enjoyment in his imagination. A creative youth, he became involved in school plays as a writer and an actor. At the age of fifteen he contracted tuberculosis and was institutionalized at a sanatorium for more than a year. When he returned to school upon his recovery, Zindel wrote a drama about an ill pianist. Although he retained an interest in theater and composed another play in college, Zindel obtained a degree in chemistry and taught the subject for almost ten years. He continued to pen theatrical pieces, however, and he eventually produced The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. The success of that drama prompted the author to retire from teaching and focus on writing plays and, subsequently, screenplays and young adult novels.
Most of Zindel's plays portray tormented women, a characteristic mat has led to comparisons with the works of Tennessee Williams. In three of his major dramatic pieces, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, and Amulets against the Dragon Forces, Zindel delves into the relationship between domineering mothers and their sensitive children. Marigolds features a widowed mother of two daughters who cares for a disabled elderly woman boarder. Each of the characters is psychologically damaged; however, one daughter, Tillie, overcomes her afflictions. The lives of the four women are reflected in Tillie's high school experiment to determine the effect of gamma rays on marigolds: resulting blighted flowers symbolize the mother Beatrice, her elder daughter Ruth, and Nanny the boarder, while the marigolds that develop rare double blooms represent Tillie. Miss Reardon portrays the breakdown of a relationship among three sisters who were mentally abused by their mother. Amulets focuses on the unfortunate life of a teenaged boy who has been shuffled among homes by his mother, whose career is providing at-home care for terminally ill patients.
Critics were impressed with The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Clive Barnes "warmly recommended" the 1970 off-Broadway show, calling it the "best of the season so far," and Edith Oliver described the drama as a "touching and often funny play." Walter Kerr even praised Zindel as "one of our most promising new writers." However, the playwright's following theatrical pieces disappointed the hopeful critics. And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little and Amulets against the Dragon Forces both garnered mixed reviews. The former received praise for its honest portraiture but was faulted for describing instead of developing the action. The latter was lauded for its compassion but was criticized for an ambivalent tone and unbelievable action. Following Amulets, Zindel stated that he would pursue new themes and characters in subsequent works, commenting, "I know that the heavens are temporary and I have to move on. I'll now be going after the next paradise."
The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds 1964
And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little 1967
The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild 1972
Ladies at the Alamo 1975
Amulets against the Dragon Forces 1989
OTHER MAJOR WORKS
The Pigman (young adult novel) 1968
My Darling My Hamburger (young adult novel) 1969
I Never Loved Your Mind (young adult novel) 1970
Pardon Me, You 're Stepping on My Eyeball (young adult novel) 1976
Confessions of a Teenage Baboon (young adult novel) 1977
The Pigman's Legacy (young adult novel) 1980
Maria's Lovers [with Gerard Brach, Andrei Konchalovsky, and Marjorie David] (screenplay) 1985
Runaway Train [with Djordje Milicevic and Edward Bunker] (screenplay) 1985
The Pigman and Me (young adult novel) 1992
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The Theater Is Born within Us (1970)
SOURCE: The New York Times, 26 July 1970, pp. 1,3.
[Here, in the course of arguing that drama is a form of expression inherent in humankind, Zindel recollects events in his own life that demonstrate an innate affinity for the theater.]
I am told I am born a playwright at a time when the Theater is dying. Somehow I think if my "birth" were better understood, it would show that the Theater is breathing quite autonomously and will continue to do so until the last man on earth raises a pistol and blasts his head off (an occasion I am quite devoted to helping avoid).
I have come to this conclusion about theatrical respiration via what may be a unique path! I evolved into a writer of plays by never having gone near a theater until I was in my twenties. The fact that I had written two plays by that time makes me believe that the seeds of theater are born inside of us.
My first set: Staten Island—a weird place to be born of a Woman Scorned who annually changed residences as though to make certain I would not miss a single square foot of its soil. Staten Island—in my childhood an exotic sampling of other lands: South Beach was Sicily; Stapleton was Killarney; Silver Lake was Alexandria; Tottenville was The Congo. I have not the least doubt I would have emerged staggeringly polylingual if that Woman Scorned...
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Overviews And General Studies
Jack Jacob Forman (essay date 1988)
SOURCE: "Women in Distress: The Plays of Paul Zindel," in Presenting Paul Zindel, Twayne Publishers, 1988, pp. 41-9.
[In the following excerpt, Forman comments on the auto-biographical elements and depiction of women in Zindel's plays, often comparing the characterizations in his dramas to those in his young adult novels.]
Just after Zindel was released from the tuberculosis sanatorium where he had spent eighteen months recuperating from the disease, the seventeen-year-old high school senior submitted a play to a contest sponsored by the American Cancer Society. He won a silver ballpoint pen as a prize, and ever since, he has been interested in creating drama. Many Americans, in fact, know him not as the author of young adult novels but as the Pulitzer Prize—winning playwright of The Effect Of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Zindel himself believes that his major literary talent and interests lie in writing for the stage.
Examining his plays in the context of his young adult novels shows both some striking similarities to his stories for teenagers and some revealing differences. Unlike his novels, the plays were written for an adult audience, and they contain mostly adult characters. (One exception is Gamma Rays's portrayal of teenagers Tillie and Ruth, whose characterizations ultimately...
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The Effect Of Gamma Rays On Manin-The-Moon Marigolds
Clive Barnes (review date 8 April 1970)
SOURCE: "'Gamma Rays on Marigolds'," in The New York Times, 8 April 1970, p. 32.
[An English-born American drama and dance critic whose commentary has appeared regularly in New York Times and New York Post, Barnes has been called "the first, second and third most powerful critic in New York " In the following review, he encourages theater-goers to attend the 1970 off-Broadway production of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Addressing the analogy between the marigolds and the depicted family, Barnes observes: "We are all the product of our environment, all the product of our particular 'gamma rays, ' but some survive and some are destroyed "]
Off Broadway is at last warming up again. At the weekend we had the engaging Dear Janet Rosenberg, Dear Mr. Kooning, and now I can also most warmly recommend a new domestic drama that arrived last night at the MercerO'Casey Theater. It is a new play by Paul Zindel and it is one of the best of the season so far.
It has, I must admit, one of the most discouraging titles yet devised by man. It is called The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, which sounds as if Arthur Kopit might have taken up science fiction. Yet curiously enough you realize at the end of the play...
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And Miss Reardon Drinks A Little
Brendan Gill (review date 6 March 1971)
SOURCE: "Shopworn," in The New Yorker, Vol. XL VII, No. 3, 6 March 1971, pp. 67-8.
[Here, Gill assesses And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little as "so shopworn in form, so flyblown in content, that one would suppose it had been written several decades ago by a bookish hermit thoroughly out of touch with the theatrical innovations of even his day."]
Having been radically overpraised last year for a not very robust pastiche of early Tennessee Williams called The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Paul Zindel now risks being underdamned for his And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, at the Morosco. The risk springs from a sorry fact about reviewing: to keep from being seen to have loved an earlier work not wisely but too well, reviewers encountering a later work that they don't like at all tend to mask their dislike and let the playwright sink by controlled stages, like a barge in canal locks, to his proper level, thus augmenting their reputations in the course of diminishing his. It is a practice related, in a reversed, mirror image, to what is known in Wall Street as "averaging," and I am sorry that Mr. Zindel should have to become a victim of it. Since he has written a much worse play this time than his erstwhile admirers can afford to admit, they bring up...
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Amulets Against The Dragon Forces
Frank Rich (review date 6 April 1989)
SOURCE: "Overcoming a Loveless Childhood," in The New York Times, 6 April 1989, p. C17.
[Since 1977, Rich has been the chief cinema and television critic for Time magazine. He is also a contributor to Ms., the New York Times, and Esquire. In the following review of the 1989 Circle Repertory Company's production of Amulets against the Dragon Force, Rich comments on the anguish in the characters' lives and finds Zindel's plot and use of mythology overworked]
While most of François Truffaut's Small Change has receded in memory, I can't imagine forgetting the scene in which a baby tumbles from a high apartment-house window and survives. Truffaut made an indelible image out of profound questions that had defined his career from The 400 Blows and that never leave most of us: By what miracle do some children survive? What happens to those victims of cruel, lonely, loveless childhoods who do grow up but don't bounce back?
These questions also animate the far different work of Paul Zindel, whose breakthrough play of 1970, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, told of two sisters trying to escape the suffocating grip of their bitter mother. Mr. Zindel's new play at the Circle Repertory Company, Amulets...
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OVERVIEWS AND GENERAL STUDIES
Forman, Jack Jacob. Presenting Paul Zindel. Boston: Twayne, 1988, 121 p.
Discusses various aspects of Zindel's writings and provides a selective primary and secondary bibliography.
THE EFFECT OF GAMMA RAYS ON MAN-IN-THE-MOON MARIGOLDS
Barnes, Clive. '"Marigolds' in Bloom Again." New York Post (15 March 1978).
Lauds The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds as a "beautifully crafted piece … like hollow Wedgewood or solid Ming." However, Barnes describes shortcomings in the Broadway show, citing problems with the directing and setting.
Eder, Richard. '"Marigolds' with Shelley Winters." The New York Times (15 March 1978).
Assesses the Broadway staging of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Eder judges some of the acting flawed and finds the 1978 performance antiquated.
Flatley, Guy. "… And Gamma Rays Did It!" The New York Times (19 April 1970): 1, 5.
Comments on the success of the 1970 off-Broadway staging of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Flatley presents an in-depth interview with Zindel, exploring the playwright's biography, insights about life, and motivations behind his plays.
Greer, Germaine. Review of The Effect of Gamma...
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