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40-year-old 'Gamma Rays' still a theater asset

Jan 13 2012
Hap Erstein | Palm Beach Post

The verdict: (A-) A 40-year-old Pulitzer-winning drama of a dysfunctional family, with a fine all-female cast led by Laura Turnbull as the embittered mother. ...Palm Beach Dramaworks has dusted off the anguished tale of embittered, alcoholic Beatrice Hunsdorfer and her two daughters, giving it a well-acted production that deserves to be seen. Whether or not it deserved the Pulitzer is debatable, but the theatrical impact of the show at the new Don & Ann Brown Theatre makes us wish Zindel had written more for the stage. Chief among the production's assets is a full-throttle performance by Laura Turnbull as Beatrice, a sour woman frustrated by life, deserted by her husband and left to raise two girls......Turnbull imbues Beatrice with just enough humanity to keep us from despising her, as she keeps lashing out at her daughters for her own miserable existence... ...If the evening belongs to Turnbull, she gets fine support from the teenage cast members. Hoffman, her real-life daughter, skillfully conveys Tillie's inner turmoil, and Skye Coyne vividly embodies her older, willfully bratty sister. Even Gracie Connell makes a favorable impression in a brief cameo as one of Tillie' competitors for the science prize. Credit director William Hayes with pulling such assured performances from this trio of young actresses... Scenic designer Michael Amico again contributes a visually stunning set, the dreary, colorless, two-story Hunsdorfer home. If Dramaworks has made a smooth artistic transition into its new playhouse – and it certainly has – Amico is largely responsible. Sean Dolan's lighting is also expert, most notably on a thunderstorm and the subsequent power outage. But there is no lack of power in this production of Gamma Rays, from a company that has grown increasingly assured in recent seasons. This is a fragile play which can be quickly thrown out of kilter, but you would never know that from the work of Hayes, his cast and his design team.