Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Calm Down Mother is a one-act transformational play that dramatizes the limitations imposed on women both by society and by other women, as well as women’s dawning recognition of the root causes of those limitations. Organized loosely in scenes that transform—at times abruptly, sometimes with the help of bridging commentary or ritual chant—into other scenes in other locales, the play depicts vignettes of women’s daily lives and shows how interactions between women are structured by their familial or societal relationships, economic status, ages, professions or occupations, and above all, gender. Megan Terry has said that she wrote the play because at the time of its creation she could find no good roles for women in current stage offerings.

Structured into eight scenes, the play has only one set, described in the stage directions as “An open stage. Four chairs are in View.” This minimal staging, a characteristic of much of Terry’s work, allows the actors to create various social and cultural milieus through their use of movement, posture, and voice and through their ability to transform themselves from identity to identity. The nearly bare stage also forces the audience to participate actively in the creation of the illusion onstage.

The play opens as the lights come up slowly during the taped recitation of a brief speech about the prehistorical evolution of one-celled creatures into the first plant, and the further splitting of that plant into two parts, one of which “stretches toward the sun.” Three women, clustered together to resemble a plant, are revealed on stage. As the speech ends, Woman One comes forward to introduce herself as Margaret Fuller, a woman who knows...

(The entire section is 704 words.)