Keep Tightly Closed in a Cool Dry Place Essay - Critical Essays

Megan Terry

Critical Context

Megan Terry worked with the Open Theatre, which greatly inspired and influenced her works, from 1963 to 1968. Her plays incorporate the basic approach of the Open Theatre: cooperation among the playwright, actors, and audience. Her chief contribution to the theater has been her use of “transformations,” a technique that defies any fixed notions of reality. Keep Tightly Closed in a Cool Dry Place uses this technique effectively. Terry’s Comings and Goings (pr. 1966, pb. 1967), written during the same period, is in fact subtitled A Theatre Game. It contains thirty transformations.

Calm Down Mother (pr. 1965, pb. 1966) is in many ways a complementary piece to Keep Tightly Closed in a Cool Dry Place. It has three women characters; the piece has been hailed as a feminist play, showing the struggles of women to know themselves as “living minds.” Approaching Simone (pr. 1970, pb. 1973), a play for which Terry won the Obie Award, is a continuation of this feminist focus. Basing this play on the life of the French writer Simone Weil, who at the age of thirty-four starved herself to death, Terry created a symbol of heroism for other women. Babes in the Big House (pr., pb. 1974) is actually a female version of Keep Tightly Closed in a Cool Dry Place. The play shows the terrible living conditions of women prisoners. Whereas in the earlier play Terry was ambiguous about the nature of the oppression of prisoners, in this play she blames patriarchy for it.

Terry uses a wide range of genres in her plays. Hothouse (pr., pb. 1974) is a realistic drama, while The Gloaming, Oh My Darling (pr. 1966, pb. 1967) is more of an absurdist play. Viet Rock (pr., pb. 1966) is a musical. Subtitled A Folk War Movie, it was one of the first plays to confront the Vietnam War. Terry’s later plays tend to deal with social issues. American King’s English for Queens (pr., pb. 1978) takes up sexism in American English. Her works of the 1990’s and early twenty-first century includeIndia Plays (pr. 1992), Sound Fields: Are We Hear (pr. 1992), Star Path Moon Stop (pr. 1995), and No Kissing in the Hall (pr. 2002). Megan Terry’s significance as a dramatist lies in her foregrounding of feminism and her return to drama as performance rather than as a literary text.