Thursday, April 21, 2016

WHEN I WAS A GIRL I USED TO SCREAM AND SHOUT: Mom and Daughter Struggle to Connect

“I’ve loved you all your life,” a mother repeatedly tells her 32-year-old daughter in Scottish playwright Sharman Mcdonald’s 1984 play,  When I Was A Girl, I Used to Scream and Shout, now being revived by the Fallen Angel Theatre Company at the Clurman Theatre. A lovely sentiment, that expression of motherly devotion. Too bad Mom is never able to bite her tongue and resist the compulsion to add, “no matter what you’ve done.” 

It’s not for lack of trying, but unconditional love is in short supply here, and resentment and regret hover over every conversation.  

The play and its airing of grievances take place during a week-long vacation at the seaside on the east coast of Scotland. Morag (Aedin Moloney) has invited Fiona (Barrie Kreinik) to join her for this mother-daughter getaway in order to reconnect. If they are not exactly estranged, they have never been terribly close; perhaps the change of atmosphere will help.  

The first act is played largely for dark comedy, of the “nagging parent” variety. When Morag gives Fiona a gift of an old coral necklace, for instance, it comes with the pointed remark, “I was keeping it for my first grandchild,” followed in rapid succession by “every woman needs to have a child,” and “a woman’s body is a clock that runs down very rapidly.”  Hint. Hint.  

Ms. Moloney, a fine actress recently seen in the Mint Theater Company’s excellent production of Women Without Men, offers these comments with just the right tone to maintain everything at the borderline between impulsive habit and  underlying bitterness. We wince at these little stinging jabs, but Fiona has long been used to her mother nipping at her, and mostly she is able to ignore it. And, if truth be told, she carries resentments of her own that affect the way she speaks to Morag in turn.

Perhaps to provide for a buffer between herself and Fiona, Morag has invited a third party to be part of their weekend. That would be Vari (ZoĆ« Watkins), Fiona’s close childhood friend, through Fiona has been out of touch with her for many years. Vari has three children of her own, and she spends much of the time complaining about the hardships she has faced owing to the demands of motherhood. 

What her presence does, however, is to trigger a stream of memories in Fiona. The play takes us back and forth in time between the present and her childhood, focusing especially on the girls’ early teenage years and their mostly self-taught lessons in the facts of life. And, oh, there was this boy (Colby Howell), who plays a small but significant role in all of this.  

After building up a head of steam through the slowly evolving first act, the play moves into a higher gear in Act II.  Amidst Fiona’s memories and revelations, we finally understand the source of the troubles between her and her mother, and why it is that Morag is resentful, believing she has had to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of her daughter. 

In the end, we can say that When I Was A Girl, I Used to Scream and Shout is the story of two women whose lives and choices were shaped by the repressive and judgmental strictures foisted upon them during their formative years (the 1930s for Morag; the 1950s for Fiona). Both rebelled, each in her own way, but ultimately both capitulated to the social order, leaving them to lay blame for their unhappiness on each other. All we can do is to hope they will finally figure this out for themselves and find a way to reconcile. 

Despite solid acting under John Keating’s careful direction, the play is a bit of a plod, especially through Act I. One longs for some of the pent-up rage to erupt and allow the characters to move forward. Instead, they seem to be caught within a cycle of disappointment and censure as relentless as the waves washing over the shore.

Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the new website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics.  

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