Publication Date


Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Playwright Tina Howe has been quoted as saying that "family life has been over-romanticized; the savagery has not been seen enough in the theatre and in movies . . ." (Moore 101). In two of her plays, Birth and After Birth (1973) and Painting Churches (1983), that savagery appears in the form of name-calling, jealousy, apathy, disregard, and physical and mental abuse. A juxtaposition of the similarities in Birth and After Birth and Painting Churches will explain the "savagery" Howe is examining. The earlier play is written in the surrealistic style of lonesco and Beckett, playwrights who have been a major influence on Howe. The later work is a much more realistic, conventional play. Both center around three-member families (a set of parents and an only child) and take place at a time of significant change. The main focus is Painting Churches and the abuse that lies at the heart of the play. Mags Church (short for Margaret) has come home to help her parents, Fanny and Gardner, pack their things; they are moving from Boston to their summer cottage in Concuit. A promising young artist on the rise, she is also going to paint a portrait of them. But the painting of this portrait will be much more than the creating of a new piece of art for Mags; it will be a very personal and very trying test. Throughout the play, Howe reveals Mags' multifaceted mental and emotional problems and how her mother, while essentially a loving parent, contributed greatly to her daughter's lack of self-esteem and need to mask herself behind her work. She may even be responsible, and this thesis proves that Fanny Church subjected her only child to continuous psychological abuse, creating in her a deep-rooted psychosis. Birth and After Birth, written a decade earlier, examines some of the issues addressed in Painting Churches, and is basically used as backup evidence to help prove my theory.


Creative Writing | English Language and Literature