Megan Terry’s Calm Down Mother (referred to as a transformation play) demonstrates various aspects of relationships between women, first espousing the most optimal situations that a woman can strive for and then showing how women, as well as their society, place restraints on their achievement of their most favorable growth. The work is considered one of Terry’s most popular one-act plays and was first produced by Open Theatre on a double bill with Terry’s play Keep Tightly Closed (a transformation play for men) on March 29, 1965, at the Sheridan Square Playhouse in New York City.
Terry uses only three women and minimum props for Calm Down Mother despite the fact that there are, in essence, multiple characters and blocs that make up this play. Over the course of the production, the three women take on different relationships to one another as they change from middle- aged shop owners to old women in a nursing home, to young prostitutes, sisters, friends, and mothers and daughters. In each section of the play, the characters explore what it means to be female, how society views them, and what tools they have to improve themselves.
Although the play was written and produced at the height of the feminist movement in the 1960s, it discusses topics that remain relevant to contemporary women as they pursue answers to their relationships with other women and society. Terry’s play, popular in experimental theater in the middle of the century, continues to be staged in college and small theater productions across the United States today.
Megan Terry’s play Calm Down Mother consists of only one act, but it is separated by different sections, during which the three female characters change roles. In the first section, the three woman are clustered, so as ‘‘to suggest a plant form,’’ the stage directions dictate. They are listening to a tape, which recounts the beginning of life outside of the oceans. Woman One states that she is Margaret Fuller (1810–1850), a nineteenth-century transcendentalist who has been credited with beginning the feminist movement in the United States. Woman One declares that she accepts the universe.
The two remaining women respond that she had better for ‘‘Carlyle said that you had better,’’ making a reference possibly, to Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881), a Scottish historian and critic who promoted a strict and authoritarian form of government. Woman One declares that her father supported her ‘‘not as a living plaything, but as a mind’’; and the other two women remind her that Cshe had better ‘‘grab the universe’’ while she can. This section then ends with the women going into a ‘‘brief freeze.’’
In the next section, the three women are in a store setting. Woman One becomes Sophie and Woman Three becomes Esther. They are sisters, and both of them work at the store. Woman Two is a young female customer, who is trying to buy a sixpack of beer. Sophie becomes entranced with the young girl’s hair, which reminds her of her mother’s hair. Sophie wants to touch it and tells the young woman about how she used to comb her mother’s hair. She also recounts that she too used to have hair like that, but she has had so many surgeries that her hair has changed. Esther complains that her sister Sophie had become obsessed with her hair when they were younger.
Sophie asks if she can comb the young woman’s hair. She also admires the young woman’s skin. As she continues, Sophie laments the loss of her mother and of her own youth while Esther and the young girl ‘‘begin a mournful hum.’’ Sophie eventually joins them, and the hum builds to a crescendo, at which point the young girl ‘‘flings the other Two Women away.’’
The young woman tells the audience that she wants to learn how to throw away the depression and anger that other people try to impose on her. She goes up to Woman One and throws her feelings on her. Then Woman One begins a monologue in which she states that she feels like she wants to hit someone; but these feelings are only coming from one side of her, as if she has suffered a stroke and that side is consumed with rage. Then there is another freeze.
Woman Three tells the audience that everyone must write the details of their lives with the ‘‘absurd conviction they are talking to or will contact someone.’’ The two other women approach her and beat her down to the ground, where she remains throughout the third section.
One of the women becomes Nancy, who has just arrived at her sister Sally’s newly rented...
(The entire section is 1278 words.)