When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream And Shout

By Sharman Macdonald
Directed by Patricia Minskoff
John Montgomery Theatre Co.
134 W. 26th St. (627-7076)
Equity showcase (through August 29)
Review by David Mackler

The conflict of generations is universal, and in When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout ,by Sharman Macdonald, the drama is played out on a beach on the east coast of Scotland. This is where Fiona (Robin Morse) grew up, and her mother Morag (Roberta Maxwell) has brought her there for reasons of her own. But this mother/daughter relationship is fraught with tension, and this is no relaxing vacation by the sea.

The antagonism between mother and daughter manifests itself right away -- they have been playing this game for years. Although Fiona is now 32 and living on her own, her mother's words can still hurt, and the appearance of her girlhood friend Vari (Juliet Pritner), married with children, doesn't help. But it does serve to set up flashbacks to their long-ago friendship, which is where the play comes most to life.

As with most children on the cusp of adolescence, the girls are preoccupied with sex, playing games, showing off pubic hair, discovering masturbation. These pubescent views of sex include all the usual excitement, discomfort, misconceptions, guilt. Morse and Pritner were very good at conveying all these emotions, as they also explored the push/pull of power and control, while sharing girlhood misinformation about pregnancies and sex.

These distorted views don't come from nowhere, of course. Morag doesn't have much of a clue about her own needs, or how she's skewing Fiona's views of life and sex by imposing her own. Her husband's leaving teaches her nothing -- all she knows is control; she cannot understand Fiona's reluctance to pay attention to her. Maxwell was excellent at the double message, telling her daughter that "whatever you do, I'll love you" while her actions say just the opposite -- as when resentment of her teenage daughter's sexuality bursts through an argument over sanitary napkins. But Fiona, of course, is learning all too well, and plays her own "innocently" vengeful and ultimately tragic game in return. In ways she doesn't understand, she reflects her mother - direct in her emotions, ugly in her intentions.

Yet, in spite of so much explosive material, the play doesn't pack a cumulative punch. A majority of plot points are described, not shown, and though this does give an added boost to scenes when we do see them -- the girls exulting in their "penises," or Fiona's retaliatory sex with Ewan (nicely played by Fred Koehler), who's exulting in his own newly discovered sexuality -- the overall effect is muted. When I Was a Girl operates mostly as a character study, but in spite of some explanation by Morag of what her hopes and dreams are, nothing really changes. No tremendous confrontation is required, but if the point is that one must deal with results of one's actions, it isn't made very strongly.

The action took place on Charles Townsend Wittreich, Jr.'s excellent set of rocks, bits of grass, a pool of water the characters play in, a cyclorama of the sea, extended around the audience, and a huge sewer pipe, which though inactive was overly symbolic. John Tees III's lighting design contributed to the effective transitions of director Patricia Minskoff's shifting of action between past and present. Although set in Scotland, there is nothing inherently Scottish about the play (accents were generally on the mark) -- the emotions are universal. In the end, old scores are not settled, grievances are not laid to rest, and people do destructive things for reasons they can't sufficiently explain. In this play's world, people get older, and maybe they grow up a little. But don't count on it.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 1998 David Mackler