How it’s New York: Fallen Angels Theatre Company is a New York City-based company, and the show performs on Theatre Row at the Harold Clurman Theatre (tickets here).
How it’s Irish: Aedin Moloney is Irish, and her father, Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains, wrote the music. The play itself is Scottish.
There’s something poignant about the fact that Fallen Angels’ production of “When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout” ends on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8, at the Harold Clurman Theatre.
Scottish playwright Sharman Macdonald’s play explores a fraught relationship between a mother and daughter, beginning in the present, when the daughter is 32 and on a beach holiday with mum, and flashing back to the daughter’s teenage years, when she takes a desperate step to keep a mum she doesn’t even really get along with by her side.
As that mum, Morag, Aedin Moloney shines. Even when she’s nagging her daughter Fiona (Barrie Kreinik) about providing her with a grandchild, you can’t help liking her. She puts so much heart in each moment that your stomach hurts for her.
To be honest, I have a feeling that that unbalances the play a little bit, but it gives Moloney a tour-de-force role, as she goes from a single mum who just wants to get married again to a lonely, thwarted woman, who doesn’t understand the damage she’s done. Her slightly husky voice and infectious smile make her Morag more sinned against than sinning.
Morag, you see, distorts her daughter’s views about sex so that she thinks it’s something dirty. This happens in a scene where the young girl is “jigging,” or masturbating, while mum reads her a story. That scene is one of several where I couldn’t help feeling we were on another planet– her girlish glee at finding a pubic hair and wanting to show her father (before he leaves the family) was another. Presumably we’re in the present, but even if the play were set when it was published in 1983, meaning the flashbacks would go to the late ’60s, it’s hard to believe an adolescent girl even in an isolated area of Scotland would be that bold. For “bold” read “clueless.”
Zoe Watkins plays Fiona’s childhood friend, Vari, brasher and less inhibited, who in the present is in a conventional, if repressive marriage. She complains comically about her droopy breasts, more seriously bout her lack of agency in her life, and gives the play its warmest moments. She’s a delight also as Fiona’s bratty, funny friend, though here again, a flashback scene in which the little girls play “willie games,” or games about penises, just had me going, “huh?”
Despite her squeamishness about sex, Fiona decides to get pregnant to keep her mum from leaving with a new man. Colby Howell plays Ewan, the rather sweet boy Fiona uses as a sperm donor. We gather through the present day that the plan worked and that the baby was given up for adoption. Fiona is defensive about not being called a mother, but really, she wasn’t. Kreinik plays the sullen young woman and the happy child then anxious teenager clearly and sharply. She’s not afraid to be unlikeable, an she gives the character a kind of glamour. It’s easy to see why people want to get close to her; she seems so hard to reach.
At one point Morag loses it at Fiona, who refuses to go to the store to buy sanitary napkins, because people will know. Morag goes too far, saying she doesn’t like Fiona, who ripped her body open when she had her.
You looked right at me. You didn’t cry. No, madam. You gave me look for look. I didn’t like you then and I don’t like you now. Do you hear me, Fiona? Are you listening, Fiona? I don’t’t like you. Nasty little black thing you were.
Yet even here, Moloney shows her pain at her daughter’s rejection so clearly, she never seems even a little monstrous, just mightily pissed off. And after a brief pause she apologizes and tells her daughter she loves her.
And because this is the same Morag we’ve seen gently assure her daughter that big breasts won’t matter, and being rather light-hearted about learning her sister, Fiona’s aunt, was a lesbian, the audience doesn’t turn on her.
Director John Keating has pulled lovely performances from his cast, but hasn’t paced the show to overcome what appear to be basic structural problems. The play has no real suspense, and is more interested in exploring the relationship between the two women. Some scenes lag, especially when Vari digresses into talking about the toll that development has taken on the environment.
Paddy Moloney’s music between scenes is gorgeous, aiding the mood and the sense of distance to this world. M. Florian Staab’s sound design, with its crashing waves, lend a false serenity to the atmosphere.
Whether or not you love the play will depend upon your appreciation of character-driven, memory plays. Me, I loved the performances. I liked the play.