On account of inexcusable ignorance, I initially thought that Cygnet Theatre had produced a contemporary drama with Paul Zindel’s The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. To my ear, the title fit a short story by Dave Eggers, one where hipster kids work through impractical problems of deep moral significance. Perhaps it would be remade as a movie starring Zach Braff, Paul Dano, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Ellen Page. The soundtrack would be at least 90 percent Ray Lamontagne.
But, no, the play debuted in Houston, in 1965, and is set during the Kennedy years. What a different world that was. Young Tillie (Abby Depuy) waxes eloquent about the inspirational power of the atom, and how it shall set us free. Mother, Beatrice (Deanna Driscoll), and sister, Ruth (Rachel Esther Tate), may be too far gone to experience Tillie’s prophesied nuclear renaissance, but the young outcast holds hope for the future.
Since then, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster have proven that catastrophic failures of atomic energy can poison the world for generations. We future people have not seen the fulfillment of Tillie’s Space Age exuberance for fission. Instead, we have become mistrustful of that which once promised us the world.
I have to wonder, in fifty years, what will the future people think of the infatuations that today’s Tillies entertain? Will our descendants look back on our dreams of self-driving cars and shake their heads with pity at our misguided desires? Will they think that we were fools to trust Silicon Valley with our private lives? I know that any things we now hold vitally important will fail the test of time, or be proven little more than misadventures and frivolous dog legs along the journey of human ingenuity. Yet, the promise of a brighter tomorrow, however foolhardy, is a proverbial light in the darkness; without which we might all be swiftly lost in the long black night that falls time and again whenever hope departs.
The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds runs through September 24.