Calm Down Mother Essay - Essays and Criticism

Megan Terry

Essays and Criticism

The Deeper Meaning

The subtitle to Megan Terry’s play is A Transformation for Three Women. If Terry is true to her title, then there must be a pattern to each short scenario, each change of character, and each relationship that she demonstrates in this play. In order to find the pattern, readers must ask questions such as why did Terry start her play with a tape recording of the first signs of life outside the great oceans? How does she use sisterhood? Why is the title of her play contained in the scene with the prostitutes? Although answers to these questions are subjective and, at the most, speculative, they can add depth to this brief play in which characters change identities, scenes appear random, and no obvious (at least at first sight) answers are provided. By digging into possible motives for creating such an arbitrary play, readers become more active in the process. Terry does not hand out her philosophy as a college professor might offer in a lecture. She is one of the pioneers in feminist experimental theater, and one of her main goals was to engage her audience in the process. She offers a scheme or an outline. It is up to the audience to fill in the missing pieces. Terry begins her play with a curious tape recording that recounts the beginning of life on land. There are three one-celled creatures, giving the reader a hint that Terry is setting up a theme for the play since there are also three female actresses throughout. As these three one-celled creatures make their way to the shore, they are constantly being washed toward the beach and then drawn back into the ocean. Not until they join forces are they eventually pushed far enough up the beach that they are able to avoid the action of the next wave. Their challenge is not yet over, however, as two are torn away by a tornado. Only one remains, and it ‘‘stretches toward the sun.’’

Following this opening, Terry writes various scenarios that include three women. Each of the situations that she presents could be likened to the attempts of the three one-celled creatures as they attempt to reach shore. First, there are the sisters Sophie and Esther, the shop owners, and their young customer who has come in to buy some beer. The connections between these three women are tenuous at best. Sophie wants to touch the young woman’s hair, a very personal experience. She admires the young woman, but not so much for the woman’s sake but rather for her own. The young woman reminds her first of her mother and then of herself; and it is in that longing for her youth that Sophie reaches out and touches the young woman. Her gestures are personal, but her motives for touching are anything but personal. The young woman is an object, a phantom of Sophie’s youth. The young woman might just as well have been a mannequin. Sophie asks nothing about the young girl’s life or her feelings. All Sophie does is tell the young girl of her troubles, her fears, her sorrows. Esther does not share Sophie’s feelings; as a matter of fact, she tends to make fun of them. She remembers Sophie’s youth in contempt, recounting how she used to spend so much time combing her hair and admiring herself in the mirror. Esther and the young woman join in a mournful lament at the end, mocking Sophie’s pain.

At this point, the women lose their identities. The young girl returns to being Woman Two, and she admits that she hates it when people try to bring her down. She wants to throw off their emotions rather than absorb them. Sophie goes back to being Woman One, and she displays her anger by stating that she wants to hit something. Woman Three, trying to make sense of it all, tells the audience that everyone needs to write down the details of their lives so they will not feel so small. ‘‘A lot of people must start writing with the absurd conviction they are talking to or will contact someone,’’ she tells them. In comparison with the opening section of this play, this scene points out that these women are not connected. It was only when the three one-celled creatures came together in the opening scene, that they finally were pushed high enough on the beach that the waves could not recall them to the sea. In the above scenario, Sophie is hurting, yet neither of the women can or want to empathize with her. Despite her family connection, Esther displays jealousy toward her sister. The young girl cannot relate to Sophie’s loss of youth. Each woman lives in a separate and isolated unit. They cannot see beyond their own needs and therefore cannot find the soil upon which they must sink their roots in order to grow.

Woman One and Woman Two then beat Woman Three down to the ground while she is talking to the audience about ‘‘contacting’’ someone. Woman Three remains in her prone position throughout the next scene, in which Women One and Two are transformed into a new sisterhood, that of Nancy and Sally. These women are much more supportive of one another. As a matter of fact, all their relationships with women are...

(The entire section is 2035 words.)

Images of Ourselves

In order ‘‘to make it,’’ we need to make images of ourselves. We compose ourselves from the cultural models around...

(The entire section is 1398 words.)

The Impact of Feminist Theater

Since the early sixties Megan Terry has been a sustaining force in feminist drama, nurturing other American women playwrights and continually...

(The entire section is 776 words.)