Thomas Burns Scully
OnStage New York Critic
It seems that there has never been a better time in history to talk about women. We can’t check Facebook anymore without someone calling out cat-calling, re-posting a HeForShe think-piece, or sharing BuzzFeeds latest top-ten about menstrual cycles. The conversation is ubiquitous and ever-growing. It’s therefore stands, then, that there has never been a time in theatre when muliebrity has been more in the fore. Theatre is, after all, a reflection of societal conversation. ‘When I Was A Girl I Used To Scream An Shout’ is a theatre piece that feels highly relevant to that conversation, despite being written thirty years ago. The play, by Sharman MacDonald, documents the lives of a group of women recalling their upbringings and experiences of womanhood. It’s an interesting piece, and, in a paragraph’s time, I will explain why.
‘WIWAG’ (as it shall henceforth be known for the sake of brevity) sees the thirty-something year-old Fiona sat down on the beach with her aging mother, Morag. Morag laments her lack of a grandchild, and Fiona makes cryptic remarks about already having one. Her mother says “That doesn’t count”. As the play goes on we meet Morag’s childhood friend Vari. We see them playing together as children, and interacting again as disparate adults. Between these two time periods, running parallel on stage, we witness the circumstances that inform Fiona and Morag’s enigmatic edicts. Along this journey we gain insights in to womanhood, the iron-rod of religion, and the mother-daughter relationship. Equal parts disturbing, awkward and loving, it’s a play with a bit to say.
MacDonald’s central concern is clearly the modern woman at odds with the worlds of misinformation that surround them. Whether they be the fatuous things that young women are told about their bodies, or the institutions of religion and public opinion that tear them between a constitutional duty to please men and a divine quest for infinite chastity. This comes across in the play very strongly, occasionally too strongly. Those of a weaker constitution may find the societal commentary ladled on a little thick, but for the most part ‘WIWAG’ treads the fine line between thoughtful voice of dissent and obnoxious social warrior nicely. I wouldn’t say that this is a play that will give you an all new insight in to the female condition, its gender politics are little too dated for that, but by equal rite it is a play that still has great relevance in spite of its age.
All this said, if dialectics aren’t your thing you needn’t worry. Humanity is at the heart of this play, not diatribe, and the cast delivers it in spades. Zoe Watkins as Vari struts and frets about the Clurman, alternating between excitable child and world-trampled mother as if cyclothymic. Barrie Kreinik as the lead, Fiona, masters similar transitions and is able to be the plays victim without feeling like an agentless waif. Instead she is characterful and bold, which gives Fiona’s fall from grace the ring of hamartia, rather than pity. Aedin Moloney as mother Morag is also rather good, although a few of her speeches could do with trimming. Morag could easily be the play’s inconsequential sad-sack, but Moloney’s portrayal allow’s the part a lightness that steers her away from the rocky shores of monotony. Finally, Colby Howell’s work as the young, dumb and, narratively crucial, full-of-come Ewan is a welcome presence. His flimsy male-bravura and sexually-unsure comedy are counterpointed nicely by his later failed attempts to be valiant and fulfill the noble male archetype.
Other crucial touches are the play’s music, provided by Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains, which is evocative; as well as Luke Cantarella sets, which are evocative; and the light and sound design by Jessica Kasprisin and Florian Staab, respectively, which are evocative. Evocative of Scotland, naturally, in case you were wondering. Scotland’s ethereal literary folk identity throws in to stark relief the messiness of the lives of the women who live there. A masterful touch by director John Keating. I can recommend ‘When I Was a Girl’ to the discerning theatre-goer. Fallen Angel Theatre have given this play a worthy revival at a point in time where its message still rings out loud and clear. Although it may not be progressive, as it may once have been, it is still firmly on the right side of history. It presents women as creatures who’s grasp on their own destiny is shaky, but crucial. It is a snapshot of 1980s gender politics, not as they related to trendy metropolitan socialites, but to ordinary working women and mothers on the sleepier parts of the seaside. Give it a whirl.
‘When I Was A Girl I Used to Scream And Shout’ runs at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre row until May 8th. Tickets start at $45 and are available online via Telecharge. For more information and full show schedule, please see fallenangeltheatre.org.
This review was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded by TimeOut NY, the New York Times, BAFTA US and other smaller organizations too numerous to mention. His writing has been performed on three continents. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man.
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