Julie Leung and Marsha in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds
Julie Leung and Marsha in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

There is a tricky balance to The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Paul Zindel’s character study of the mother from hell.  That balance is missing in the Redcurrant/Marigolds Collective production currently playing in Chinatown.

Set inside the rundown Hunsdorfer family home, Marigolds is the epitome of the dysfunctional family drama. Single mom Beatrice is a shell of a woman who cannot bear to see anyone succeed in life, and will do most anything in her power to make sure they don’t. Beatrice takes most of her frustrations in life out on her two daughters, Tillie and Ruth. And as it turns out, on the family pet too.

To be successful, it takes an actor who is willing to balance both sides of Beatrice: the one who builds up, and the one who just as quickly tears down. In this production under Chris Lam’s direction, Laara Ong plays the fulcrum, never allowing her Beatrice to fully reside on either side. The result is a constrained performance that lacks variety, and even though Ong is successful in some of her character’s softer edges, there is little difference to Beatrice’s darker side.

As her two daughters, who essentially represent the two sides of their mother while desperately trying not to become her, Julie Leung and Lissa Neptuno fair a little better. In a scene at the top of act two, Leung and Neptuno capture the dark family dynamic in an explosive outburst, but it all settles just as quickly as it began.

Moving the Hunsdorfer family from Staten Island to Vancouver’s Chinatown, plus the production’s predominantly Asian cast, does open some interesting questions about how race plays a role in this production. With a risk of delving into stereotypes, how much of Beatrice’s restraint comes as a result of Ong’s Asian background? That question is never really answered though, and even if it were true, Zindel’s script gives us little to help justify such an interpretation.

Forgoing a traditional theatre space, its Chinatown location aside, Lam does gain some points in using the Skylight Gallery. With its audience on four sides of the open area that becomes the family home, it is as if we are flies on the wall, eavesdropping on what is happening.

In The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds we should see a family teetering on the brink; in this production that see-saw barely moves an inch.

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel. Directed by Chris Lam. A Redcurrant/Marigolds Collective production. On stage at the Skylight Gallery (163 East Pender St, Vancouver) until November 28. Tickets and information are available online.