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."