Backstage Blog

Q&A with the cast of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-moon Marigolds

This Pulitzer Prize-winning lyrical drama tells the story of a wounded family unraveling at the age of innocence and at the age of no return. Life in the 1960s with Beatrice, an embittered single mother, resembles a hell more than a home for her two daughters. But Tillie, the youngest, finds her own way to connect the world with resilience and hope. Tillie – keeper of rabbits, dreamer of atoms, true believer in life, hope, and the effect of gamma rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.

To get to know this talented cast better, we asked them a few questions about the show and their experience.

Abby DePuyAbby DePuy (Tillie)

Why do you feel this play is relevant today?

I think Gamma Rays is relevant today because it reveals the heartbreak which results from broken families and loss. These are things that many people, unfortunately, can relate to. Tillie offers hope to the victim of loss and brokenness that a person can rise above her circumstances.

This is often described as a play with “roles for actors”. What are you most looking forward to about either your role, or working on the play as a whole?

I am super excited to work with such an incredibly talented cast who put so much heart and effort into their art. Our director Robby is brilliant, and I know he is going to propel me as an actress and create an unforgettable, unique show. Tillie is an inspiration to me because she does not allow her circumstances to define who she is or what she will become.

I am looking forward to the challenge of playing Tillie because of her complexity. She is hopeful and optimistic while looking for ways to bring her family into some kind of harmony. But she also hides or tries to be invisible to avoid conflict.

Do you have history working with any of the other actors or creative team? Have you worked on any other American Classics in the past?

I have spent the majority of my years in the musical theater world. Gamma Rays will be my first professional play and first time performing an American Classic. I am looking forward to working with the cast and creative team, who are all new friends since meeting at callbacks.

DeAnna DriscollDeAnna Driscoll (Beatrice)

Why do you feel this play is relevant today?

Anytime a play is as well written as this one, you can always find connections to our time. The characters are so rich and their dilemmas are so present and deep that I think audiences will allow themselves to have empathy for these females. There are so many issues right now that make us fearful of what is coming next. This is the exact world that these characters live in – the fear of what is coming next. It’s relatable for everyone.

This is often described as a play with “roles for actors”. What are you most looking forward to about either your role, or working on the play as a whole?

It is true that these types of roles don’t come along very often. When they do, I like to stay open and learn as I go. I have ideas, questions and feel confidant that we are going to go on a journey together as we work through this play. I believe that often times roles come to actors when they are supposed to and I am not certain yet why an alcoholic, abusive, insecure, frightened mother role just came to me. I am not going to judge it but rather run with it!

Just like all of us, the flaws in my character are deep and painful. She is a stunted woman trying desperately to raise her daughters the best she knows how. That’s a great character to have the honor to play. I feel very fortunate to share the stage with these ladies and work on this phenomenal play with Robby.

Do you have history working with any of the other actors or creative team? Have you worked on any other American Classics in the past?

No. That is actually one of the most exciting elements for me! I love the idea of working with a director and fellow artists that I have never worked with before. Every show I do, I learn something from each and every person involved and so I can’t wait to see what my new lessons are during this process.

I played Maggie in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ years ago in NYC, and I played Grace in “Bus Stop” at The Old Globe. I love the experience of doing “steeped in realism” American Classics. This opportunity is giving me another chance to experience that, which is one of the many things I am excited about.

Rachel Esther TateRachel Esther Tate (Ruth)

Why do you feel this play is relevant today?

Fear and love are universal. They lead us to almost every decision we make. This play zooms in on a family of women who are struggling to find the ways to cope, to escape fear and live thoughtfully in their love. It shines a light on the little inner struggles that consume us as we try to move along through life as siblings, parents, and humans in general. Throughout the story, Tillie discovers what it means to be special and realizes her role as a tiny, but important part of the universe. It is beautiful and captivating, structurally simple and poetic, raw and real.

This is often described as a play with “roles for actors”. What are you most looking forward to about either your role, or working on the play as a whole?

I have to say, I’m pretty psyched to be onstage with only women. This play is a goldmine for actresses as individual artists, but especially as an ensemble. It is a story of four strong and beautifully complex women that explores the strength and trials of sister/motherhood. I have never been in a cast of all female actors and I can’t wait to see what each of these talented women bring to their roles.

Do you have history working with any of the other actors or creative team? Have you worked on any other American Classics in the past?

This is my first time with this group of actors and also my first full production of an American Classic. However, this is my second time working with Robby at Cygnet. He is not only one of my favorite directors to collaborate with, but he also happens to be my life partner. I am so excited to be diving into the beauty of Paul Zindel’s words with such fantastic artists.

Carm GrecoCarm Greco (Nanny)

Why do you feel this play is relevant today?

Gamma Rays beautifully explores issues that are relevant today; poverty, alcoholism, child abuse, bullying, forgotten or throw-away seniors, educators who recognize the courage, curiosity of a child…the list goes on. Yet it really is about hope and the indomitable spirit of a young girl who rises above her miserable circumstances.

This is often described as a play with “roles for actors”. What are you most looking forward to about either your role, or working on the play as a whole?

Nanny is an enigmatic character. What does she know? What does she really see and hear?

Do you have history working with any of the other actors or creative team? Have you worked on any other American Classics in the past?

No, which is why it is so personally exciting and rewarding.

Michelle Marie Trester Michelle Trester (Janice Vickery)

This is often described as a play with “roles for actors”. What are you most looking forward to about either your role, or working on the play as a whole?

I love making people laugh and am so looking forward to providing some comic relief in the show. Janice Vickery has a special place in my heart because of her quirky humor and offbeat personality. With any script, I love diving in and investigating the text to find clues the playwright has left to help build the backstory of my character. Paul Zindel left such yummy little details about Janice throughout Gamma Rays. I am really looking forward to exploring her in the rehearsal room with Robby. I can’t wait to breath life into her!

Do you have history working with any of the other actors or creative team? Have you worked on any other American Classics in the past?

I am very excited to be making my Cygnet debut with this production! I have not had the chance to work with Rob Lutfy or other members of the cast or the creative team before so I am just over the moon. Since moving to San Diego, I have admired Robby’s directorial vision with each of his productions and Cygnet’s stellar reputation for creating powerful art. I am thrilled to be joining them on this adventure. Much of my time in NYC was spent creating and working on new work. I am thrilled to be revisiting the American Classics once again. Many years ago, I had the chance to play Laura Wingfield in one of my favorite American Classics, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. I am honored to tap into a very different character with Janice and can’t wait to share this production with San Diego!

Catch these talented actors through September 24th!

Talk to Cloudy for informations.

Q&A with the Cast of Animal Crackers

Amy PerkinsAmy Perkins

What first attracted you to Animal CrackersWorking at my favorite theater for the summer and working with Sean Murray!

Were you familiar with the Marx Brothers before this? And if not, what are you excited to learn about them through the rehearsal process and show? I had no idea who they were- in fact I confused them with the 3 Stooges. Now I have seen all the movies and am comforted by seeing Harpo, Groucho, and Chico on the screen.

What do you find most challenging or exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? Playing multiple characters is always a challenge because you want to make sure the audience can tell who you are each time you are onstage.

Josh Odsess-RubinJosh Odsess-Rubin

What first attracted you to Animal CrackersI enjoy their taste. I found myself in the snacks aisle at my local grocery establishment, but the Chips Ahoy appeared rather caloric, I’m allergic to Oreos, and the Keebler Grasshoppers gave me a dirty look, so I went with Animal Crackers.

Were you familiar with the Marx Brothers before this? And if not, what are you excited to learn about them through the rehearsal process and show? I’ve read some works by my favorite Marx Brother, Karl, and I’ve enjoyed his extremely dry wit.

What do you find most challenging or exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? They cast me alongside a newly-immigrated Italian and a mute; it’s been rough. The snacks have been excellent.

Samantha Wynn GreenstoneSamantha Wynn Greenstone

What first attracted you to Animal CrackersThe zany world! It pushes the limits both in content and style. The ambiguity of the mechanics of some of the scenes was a challenge I was excited to embark upon!

Were you familiar with the Marx Brothers before this? And if not, what are you excited to learn about them through the rehearsal process and show? I was. Most of my knowledge was pulled from my research. I love that Harpo adopted multiple children. I’m adopted myself and it is the greatest blessing in my life. To have that in common with him is pretty cool because it is another testament to the importance of family within the Marx unit. Family is equally as important to me. I have two brothers. In this show, I have 3. They all treat me like I’m their sister (even though I insist that I’m their BROTHER). There’s a certain level of comfort and freedom to play that comes from that bond and I’m having so much fun having that safety net of support from my cast mates.

What do you find most challenging or exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? It’s challenging trying to find the balance of how much to pull from the movie/how much Marx humor to bring to it and how much Samantha I can bring to it. Naturally, you want to do justice to the iconic nature of the piece, but it’s important to me to show that I can make a vintage art form my own. If we can communicate that an earlier art form is still relevant and can be improved upon in a modern world, I think we are being responsible as actors.

Russell GarrettRussell Garrett

What first attracted you to Animal CrackersThe chance to work with Sean Murray (who I have known since SDSU days in college) and Cygnet Theatre after seeing and enjoying many shows at Cygnet over the years.

Were you familiar with the Marx Brothers before this? And if not, what are you excited to learn about them through the rehearsal process and show? Somewhat exposed to the Marx Brothers when I was younger. I mainly have fond memories of seeing A Night At The Opera. But more of my memories of the brothers were based on other things, like Groucho on You Bet Your Life and other TV appearances, and Harpo doing his mirror routine with Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy.

What do you find most challenging or exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? It will be challenging to not laugh at the silliness of the other actors and what they are doing. It will also be challenging to play the “straight man” as the Brothers wreak havoc. I’ve played several silly characters in recent years and in this I have to be more the straight man to them.

Bryan BanvilleBryan Banville

What first attracted you to Animal CrackersThe taste! The iconic personalities of the characters, and the old school physical and punny comedy!

Were you familiar with the Marx Brothers before this? And if not, what are you excited to learn about them through the rehearsal process and show? I knew of Groucho (the iconic glasses we all have worn) and had seen some clips. I was introduced to Groucho when I was doing Forever Plaid and had to do a Groucho “cross” in one the numbers. I am most excited to explore the various bits they do and work on adding even MORE puns to my vocabulary.

What do you find most challenging or exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? I think anytime you are in a show playing two or more characters that have extensive stage time, it is finding a way to differentiate them. With Jamison and John Parker, I have the added challenge of having two similar archetypes to portray that still have their own idiosyncrasies. This leaves me both excited and scared (musical theater ode for you) for the creative process. There is nothing more rewarding than finding a character for the first time, especially when you first feel it click! Sometimes it can be equally gratifying killing a character at the end of the run of a show. I remember after doing Spamalot at Moonlight, I ceremoniously killed off all 6 of my characters at the end of their last scenes. This helps me in the creative process to not bring in the same character over and over and over again, which can also pose a challenge for character acting!

Spencer RoweSpencer Rowe

What first attracted you to Animal CrackersI’ve always been a fan of the Marx Brothers comedies and have wanted to play Chico for years!

Were you familiar with the Marx Brothers before this? And if not, what are you excited to learn about them through the rehearsal process and show? Yes!

What do you find most challenging or exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? The physical side of the comedy. The timing has to be perfect!

Chaz FeuerstineChaz Feuerstine

What first attracted you to Animal CrackersThe comedy, the Marx Brothers, and a chance to work at Cygnet.

Were you familiar with the Marx Brothers before this? And if not, what are you excited to learn about them through the rehearsal process and show? I always knew about Groucho, because of the famous mask, and his appearance in random Saturday morning cartoons. But I actually had never watched a Marx brother movie until I was hired on for this show.

What do you find most challenging or exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? I find the challenge in the characters I play to be the straight society member for the Marx brothers to riff off of. I love that Sean set us up for this success right in the beginning… to always play the action of the scene, not the comedy.

Melinda GilbMelinda Gilb

What first attracted you to Animal CrackersSean asked me to do it. Seemed like it would be fun and I liked that I would be playing a straight character (meaning, not the funny one).

Were you familiar with the Marx Brothers before this? And if not, what are you excited to learn about them through the rehearsal process and show? I was familiar with the Marx Brothers. They used to show reruns of You Bet Your Life with Groucho and I thought he was brilliant. Harpo kind of scared me!

What do you find most challenging or exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? Learning the lines has been slow going!

Catch Animal Crackers through August 13th!