Bodyscape: Isolation, Health, and the Woman’s Voice
for she can understand Beth. The play ends with Beth relieved, saying “I'm so glad
you're here.” Beth's grandmother thus becomes a source of nourishment for Beth.
Emotionally, Beth can connect with a human being again if only in her dreams.
Beth is not the only woman who finds comfort in an encounter with her
deceased grandmother. Such a conversation is at the centre of Kelley Jo Burke’s Had a
Great Fall (no date, 28:46). In the play a new mother, Carole, learns to better
understand herself and her own mother by conversing with a dual spectre of her dead
grandmother Elsie. One version is Elsie as an old paranoid woman; the other version is
Elsie as a young woman. The play opens with Carole hyperventilating under the
kitchen table, much to her own dismay. She says, “I tried to be ever so much more than
a crazy lady under the table”. While Carole barely suppresses panic, her new baby,
Dina, is quietly sleeping upstairs. The inspiration for Carole’s panic soon becomes
apparent. Carole is conversing with her dead Nana Elsie, who panics about everything
to do with babies. While growing up, Carole faced a barrage of warnings from Elsie:
At seven, I nearly died of a broken neck. There was the constant threat of house fires, or there were poisonings. Not to mention my near- brushes with death through near swallowings of tacks, pins, toothpicks, sharp-edged crackers. She was afraid of water, light, used Kleenex, and heights – especially heights.
This influence of Nana Elsie on Carole seems overwhelming. Carole claims, “I have
become Nana Elsie, which is not a huge surprise. The huge surprise is that I held out
this long.” To Carole, this is all a case of “Neurotic possession. It’s all rather
did it to have control over something in their lives. They couldn’t control a lot, but they were damn well going to control their weight.” The play finds a mother, Rita, trying to deal with her daughter's eating disorder. Rita's therapist asks, “What is food?” This sparks a free-association riff from Rita that food is, among other things, “potatoes in the camp-fire with dad ... food comes from my mother, food is mother.”
Potatoes appear again in Happy Birthday Arnie when Louise accuses Arnie of faking his heart attack just to get out of picking potatoes. Tracy links burnt potatoes and spousal abuse in Reunion. Frau Klaus peels only enough potatoes for herself to declare that she has chosen to let her husband freeze in the yard in The Silence. Thus, potatoes become both a symbol of nourishment and of death.