As she does in so much of her work, in Calm Down Mother Megan Terry examines women’s roles both within and without the family structure, depicting the tensions as well as the bonds that exist between women in various situations. The play is set in the present, in the immediacy of women’s lives, in the day-to-day tasks and experiences that circumscribe a woman’s universe.
The play’s key scenes develop out of one another, drifting from one to the next in a movement that grows out of the opening scene in which the three characters are bonded together in a human representation of primitive plant life at the bottom of some primordial swamp. From the initial portrayal of woman at the moment of creation with all the universe before her, the action moves through successive scenes, dramatizing the societal expectations that continue subtly to oppress women: the cultural insistence on beauty as the most desirable female trait; the taboo on visible female anger; the valorization of a woman who, at the expense of her own happiness, puts everyone else’s needs first; the expectation that women should grow old quietly; the still-prevalent image of woman as plaything; and the universal view of woman as reproductive machine. The last scene suggests that from the cultural point of view, women cannot seize the universe because their role is passive and maternal rather than active and societal.
At the heart of the play is Terry’s feminism of...
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