In two acts, The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds juxtaposes the explosive emotional conflicts of the Hunsdorfer family against the ordered, logical pursuits of science to reveal that, like the experimental marigolds, people also mutate in response to external forces. As the play opens, Tillie Hunsdorfer introduces this theme with a voice-over in which she marvels that the atoms in her hand were once contained in different parts of the earth. The scene then shifts to the Hunsdorfer home, formerly a vegetable shop run by Beatrice’s father. The audience hears the single mother Beatrice Hunsdorfer speaking on the phone to Mr. Goodman, Tillie’s science teacher, about the reasons Tillie has been absent. Although Beatrice speaks in a complimentary fashion, once she hangs up the phone, her duplicity is revealed. She berates Tillie for putting her in the position of having to speak to the school, even though Beatrice is responsible for keeping Tillie home.
Tillie’s sister Ruth enters, states that Tillie has become the laughingstock of the school, and adds that the school keeps a file on the family. As Beatrice worries about the contents of the file, the stage goes dark, and Tillie is heard marveling with Mr. Goodman at the fountain of atoms produced in a science experiment. When the lights go back up, Tillie readies boxes of dirt for marigold seeds that have been exposed to cobalt-60 in order to study its effects. Beatrice enters with plans of her own: She wishes to transform the house into a tea shop, and as she imagines the changes she would make, she asks Tillie about her experiment. Tillie explains the idea of radioactive half-life to Beatrice, and the elderly boarder Nanny enters. Beatrice speaks loudly and with artificial sweetness to Nanny but voices spiteful malevolence behind her back. Beatrice sarcastically mocks Nanny’s...
(The entire section is 767 words.)