Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1278
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 New York apartment. Sally has just recently divorced an abusive husband. Nancy tells Sally that she is falling apart, to which Sally reacts by calling her ‘‘Stella Dallas,’’ a reference to a 1937 Barbara Stanwyck movie in which a mother sacrifices everything for her daughter. In Nancy’s case, however, she has sacrificed a lot for everyone, including her mother, who has just been diagnosed with cancer, a circumstance that Nancy can do nothing about except wait for her mother’s imminent death. Nancy is also angry with her father, who is an alcoholic. Nancy believes that her father is faking a heart attack in order to grab attention away from his wife. The women embrace and freeze.
Woman Three, who has been lying on the stage floor throughout the preceding section, rises. She is in a nursing home. Women One and Two are residents there. Their names become Mrs. Tweed and Mrs. Watermellon. They discuss the passing of time; and Mrs. Watermellon declares that the sunrise begins in the heart, but no one ever believes her. She then explains time by making reference to her menstrual cycle, which Mrs. Tweed believes is absurd. The two women call one another names, and Mrs. Tweed threatens to call Mrs. Watermellon’s family and have her committed. Mrs. Watermellon reminds her that she already is.
The third woman is now a nurse, and she approaches them with food, which the other two refuse to eat. The nurse is very mechanical in her responses to the women. The two patients make fun of her, calling the food worms, then calling the nurse a worm. When the nurse tries to get away from them, the two patients turn into subway doors, chanting ‘‘Please keep your hands off the doors.’’ When the woman finally breaks through, all three women become ‘‘call-girls,’’ or prostitutes, preparing to begin their night. Their names are now Momo, Felicia, and Inez.
Momo and Felicia are arguing, trying to upstage one another. Inez tells them to ‘‘shut up,’’ or they will be late for the party. The women are preparing themselves for what appears to be an orgy. The women talk to one another in very combative tones, threatening to cause harm, calling one another offensive names. In the middle of the argument, Felicia pulls out a ‘‘roll of bills,’’ which reportedly belongs to Momo, who has apparently not been giving her share to Ricky, the madam of the house. Momo is the newest one of the group, and Inez tells her she has a lot to learn. Felicia refers to Inez as ‘‘mommie,’’ asks her forgiveness for all the arguing and suggests that Inez spank her. Momo does the same. Then the three women huddle and chant: ‘‘Have confidence. You’ve been found.’’
The women continue to repeat their chant, but, instead of statements, they begin questioning themselves: ‘‘You’ve been found? . . . No, I’ve been found.’’ The women are now living in a tenement, washing dishes. Their names are Sue, Sak, and Ma.
Sue begins by talking about birth control. She is angry about a magazine article that states that it is wrong to use contraceptives. Sak goes along with Ma, who does not believe in birth control. Sue points out that, technically, she could create a baby every month for the next thirty years of her life. To prove her point, she states that every woman who does not create a baby out of every one of her eggs is, in some way, practicing some kind of birth control. She then criticizes her sister and mother for sitting in church every week and listening to the men preaching about birth control, a subject they do not even fully understand.
Sak, who is a true believer, warns that Sue will burn in hell for what she has just said. Sue responds, ‘‘They’ll make me a saint! A thousand years from now they’ll award me a medal for not contributing to the population!’’ Ma tells Sue to pack her things and move out of their home. Sue tries to tell her that she has ‘‘been born out of my time.’’ She calls her mother and sister ‘‘empty bottles of holy water,’’ then says she does not need to pack. ‘‘I’ve got everything I need right here in my belly.’’
The three women then face the audience and end the play with a chant about their bellies and their ‘‘eggies’’ being enough. The last line is a question: ‘‘Are they?’’
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