CALM DOWN MOTHER, Yugen Theatre, at Cafe Voltaire. Perhaps the spacious auditorium at the Halsted Theatre Centre is what made the last Chicago production of Calm Down Mother, in 1992, such an inchoate mess. And maybe the restrictive quarters of the Voltaire basement are responsible for the way Yugen Theatre focuses audience attention through economical movement and a minimum of oratory. Or perhaps there was a misunderstanding in that 1992 production of the “transformation” exercise employed by playwright Megan Terry, in which the final action of one scene becomes the initial action of the next. Maybe Yugen director Lynn Ann Bernatowicz just better comprehends that for this technique to succeed the players must not only pivot agilely on a single speech but create a recognizable context for each segment in this one-act about women’s relationships with other female family members.
Then again, maybe this debut production succeeds because the Yugen cast adopt a rigorously disciplined interpretation of the script, which has a disconcertingly melodramatic tone. In fact Terry’s dialogue, stripped to its bare content, veers annoyingly close to simplistic agitprop circa 1965, when the play was written. But whatever their insights, the Yugen ensemble have accomplished something hitherto thought impossible: given a script all but designed to encourage juvenile self-indulgence some intelligence, cohesion, and restraint and a fine polish.