Scottish playwright Sharman Macdonald’s When I Was a Girl I Used To Scream and Shout, directed by John Keating, at the Clurman Theater, captures the tensions that often exist between parents and children. In this case, the play centers on a mother’s attempt to reconcile with her daughter. Morag (pronounced “MORE-ag”), played primly with repressed exuberance by Aedin Moloney, treats her daughter, Fiona, to a seaside holiday on the Scottish coast—to the town where they once lived.
Morag has a difficult time connecting with Fiona, who, at 32, is childless and unmarried. Morag is upset that Fiona hasn’t given her any grandchildren and tells her that “every woman needs to have a child” and, later, “a woman’s body is a clock that runs down rapidly.” Fiona, played by Barrie Kreinik with the needed detachment that comes from a childhood of disappointment, is also a vegetarian, a lifestyle choice that her mother understands as little as her marriage and childless state. In John Keating’s production, Luke Hegel Cantarella’s simple set allows rapid scene changes between the past divisions and the present encounter of the two women. The whole is enhanced by the lilting music of Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains.
Morag talks a blue streak and, as Fiona says, “cares passionately about everything: life and a ham sandwich.” Morag has packed not only tea in a thermos, but coffee and a picnic basket full of sandwiches and other goodies. Morag is clearly prepared for the activities that people undertake in life, but not really for life itself. She has believed so firmly in the traditional institution of marriage that it led her to make choices that deeply affected Fiona. Five years after Fiona’s father left, she finally met a new man whose work will take him to the Middle East. Morag makes arrangements for Fiona to live with the family of her best friend, Vari, played with spunk by Zoe Watkins. But Fiona wants her mother to stay. After all, she’s only 15.
Morag, however, chooses the new man over her daughter, and while she’s making plans to leave, Fiona is looking for ways to make her stay. She finds what she thinks is a surefire solution: getting pregnant. Having explored her sexuality with Vari, Fiona lures Ewan (Colby Howell), a winsome boy a few years older than her, and one whom Vari had let kiss and fondle her, to the beach and tells him she’s ready to have sex. He’s eager to lose his virginity so willingly gives in. Fiona gets pregnant as a result of that encounter, but the plan backfires, and her mother still goes off with her new husband. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, and Fiona’s sadness over her past abandonment engulfs her. We see why Fiona’s mother wants to reconcile with her daughter, but it’s very hard for people to change. Morag only knows one way: her way. Her ideas about life hang in delicate balance. If she didn’t believe in what she had done—choosing a husband (a man) over her daughter—life probably would have broken her.
In comparison to Fiona’s childhood friend Vari, who has let herself become fat as a result of an unsatisfying marriage and three children, Fiona is thin and independent. Vari calls Fiona a “privileged feminist.” However, in reality Fiona is haunted by the ghosts of the past. She carries her confusion and resentment silently into the present. At the end of the play, when her mother begs her to talk to her, Fiona sits stonily beside her, but the fight is gone. Perhaps the barriers of contention have finally been torn down on this seaside excursion. At least, the vision of the three women eating a soft ice cream and sharing a shot of whiskey indicates a ray of hope that the wounds of the past and the relationship between mother and daughter will eventually be repaired.
Fallen Angel Theatre Company's production of When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout is playing through May 8 at the Clurman Theatre on Theater Row (410 W. 42nd St. between Ninth Avenue and Dyer Street). Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; matinees are at 2 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $46.25; for more information visit fallenangeltheatre.org or telecharge.com.