NORTH ANDOVER — Beatrice Hunsdorfer has got to be the mother from hell.
She shoves her two teenage daughters around as is they were trash barrels, constantly berates them and does not want them to achieve a better life than the miserable one she has. A widow, she spews forth an incessant torrent of negativity and just does not shut up.
She's also a chain smoker and drinks too much booze.
Her younger daughter, Matilda, Tillie for short, has a passion for science and wins first prize in a science fair. Does Beatrice congratulate her and express her pride? No, of course not.
Her older daughter, Ruth, wilts under the maternal rage and ends up suffering a seizure.
This is what happens in "The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds," the latest production of the North Andover High School Drama Guild. The members of the guild performed two dress rehearsals at the school Friday, then did another performance at Chelmsford High School on Saturday.
They competed in the METG (Massachusetts Educational Theater Group) High School Drama Festival against seven other high schools from the northeastern section of the state.
The local thespians did not win the regional competition, but two of them, Aleigh Gerron and Jayda Baker, won acting awards.
The entire cast as well as the unsung heroes behind the scenes were all strong contenders, according to Linda Schoonmaker, adviser to the guild.
Alana Kelly, a senior, portrayed Beatrice. Because of her character's nonstop yakking in this two-act play, Kelly had an unusually large number of lines to master.
Katheryn DiBlasio, also a senior, played Matilda, also known as Tillie, the smart daughter who wins the science fair with her project: "The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the Moon Marigolds."
She concluded that the marigolds that had the greatest exposure to gamma rays fared the worst. The student actors compared the radiation of the gamma rays to the negativity that emanates from an abusive parent – or abusive anyone, for that matter.
Gerron, yet another senior, took the role of Ruth, the daughter who doesn't fare so well.
"A bratty teenager," Gerron said of her character.
Baker, a senior, played a part that called for no speaking but an abundance of acting. With her hair colored gray and an effective makeup job done by Gerron, she really did appear to be a very old lady as she shuffled across the stage with the aid of a walker.
She was Nanny. Beatrice earned money by taking care of her. Beatrice talked baby talk as she asked, "Oh, Nanny, would you like a cup of tea?" Then in an aside to the audience, she snarled, "I'm really going to need a cigarette for this!"
Allison Determan, a junior, played the part of Janice, the runner-up in the science fair. She skinned a cat for her project and proudly displayed the skeleton.
Like Janice, Beatrice was not kind to animals. Matilda had a pet rabbit named Peter. The mother from Hades ended up poisoning the poor creature.
In real life, "Peter" is actually Phoebe and belongs to Baker.
The background music for this play was composed by none other than Jordan Mongell, a North Andover High School senior who plans to attend the University of Hartford and become a composer.
"Tillie's Theme Song" starts off on somber notes – obviously, this is not a happy play – transitions to a more upbeat tempo as she goes for the gold in the science fair, then returns to the somber mood.
The musicians were senior Michael Ando playing flute along with juniors Caleb Litster, guitar and Conor Curtin, percussion.
Edward Nachamie was the sound engineer. Seniors Iasmina Birleanu and Cat Jacques were the co-directors while Maddy Reveal was the assistant director.
While Beatrice nurtured an atmosphere of negativity, her daughter Matilda, the science wonk, showed that "you can come out strong," Jacques said.
"The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds" was written by Paul Zindel and won a Pulitzer Prize. Birleanu said it is based on his childhood.