WHEN I WAS A GIRL,
A GIRL IS A HALF FORMED THING
When I Was a
Girl I Used to
Scream and Shout,
Theatre Row, is a 1984 play by Sharman MacDonald, a kind of sweet-sad overview of a
relationship between a divorced,
middle aged mother (Aiden Moloney)
and her thirtysomething daughter (Barrie Kreinik) told in flashbacks reaching as
far as the
daughters childhood and progressing chronologically to the start
daughters best friend (Zoe Watkins)
and teenage-years boyfriend (Colby Howell) figure into the mix as well. As
directed by John Keating, it has its charms, and is well acted, but mostly,
I found the play to be hitting very familiar tropes in a way
that made the
narrative predictable, if not schematic, with a few pauses for
Far better is the first entry in 59E59’s annual Brits off-Broadway festival, Echoes, by acclaimed comedy writer Henry Naylor. working in an uncharacteristically serious mode. Here’s the boilerplate: “Echoes tells the parallel stories [in alternating monologues] of two women born 175 years apart. One is a Victorian pioneer woman (Felicity Houlbrooke), the other an Islamist schoolgirl (Filipa Braganca). The former wants to build an Empire, the latter a Caliphate. Both women are idealists and intelligent adventurers…”
But what awaits them in their new societies, and what happens to their beliefs and ideals amount to radical, dramatic, victorious, horrible and in some respects eerily similar rites of passage.
Co-directed by Naylor and Emma Buttler, and performed by the named actresses with depth and sensitivity, the play is but an hour long; but its haunting power lingers far, far longer.
I did a little bit of research on A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, because I found the piece to be rough going, and I didn’t want to be summarily dismissive of a work that has clearly affected enough people to be imported (from Ireland’s Corn Exchange Theatre Company to the Jerome Robbins stage of the Baryshnikov Arts Center), based in turn upon a novel which has affected even more people. The novel of the same title is by Elmear McBride, and it’s a stream-of-consciousness story about the hard life of a young girl, including the death of a brother, other tragedy and sexual abuse, leading to her suicide. It is written in both low slang and high style, because the language is fragmented, incomplete and sometimes even abstract; we are meant not only to see things through the girl’s eyes, but to experience her thoughts as they come, without filtering, neatening or reflection. Adapter-director Annie Ryan’s script is perforce a significant reduction of the text, and performer Aofie Duffin presents us with a creature who is both an innocent waif and haunted by having seen too much before her time, irreparably damaged, traveling through states of bitter humor, horror, anger and self-induced narcosis to distance herself from her own body when it’s assaulted.
Obviously nothing like this is going to be a barrel of laughs, and to deliver it with the integrity of the source material, you just have to go there, as you envision what “going there” must be; but this is one of those portraits of unremitting bleakness that, to me, never show the reason why they must exist. Nothing wrong with a grim truth, but the art is in the why. And I found that nothing but Why me? or more accurately, Why her?, as the character herself is possessed of a self-numbing fatalism, was not enough. If you check reviews of the novel at Amazon, you’ll find reactions are all over the map, as befitting this kind of storytelling and narrative technique.
As to the audience reaction when I attended? Much approbation for the performer. The audience appeared to be in hypnotic concentration for the 80 minutes duration—attaining that is no mean accomplishment. But the (these days) obligatory standing ovation for a tour de force well done? Not so much. Admiration may not have extended whole-heartedly to approval.
I’m afraid your potential response cannot be gauged against mine. All I can tell you is that your mileage may vary.
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