Subject of ENMU play no laughing matter

By Clyde Davis: Local columnist

Adoption is “the right child finding the right family.” These are the words of Janeice Scarbrough, playwright and ENMU drama instructor, concerning one of the themes of her recently presented play, “Mia, Emma and Rose.”

The play itself will be performed once again on the ENMU stage in October. So beyond stating that the plot involves a birth mother, two unrelated women given up for adoption as children and searches for identity, I won’t muddy the waters for you. I’d prefer that you see it for yourself, at those anticipated late October benefit performances.

Another theme of the play, one that caught me completely off guard, was the story behind the story. How did these two women come to be given up for adoption? The reality that Scarbrough unfolded for me, explaining the underlying story, was almost Dickensian in its details. If no dates had been attached, I would have thought myself hearing about something from the sooty streets of London in the 1880s.

Magdalene laundries. They operated in Ireland until the early to mid-1990s. Not 1890s; 1990s. Like right after Desert Storm. Like during the Clinton presidency. Like when most of us began to take Internet for granted. They were places where “fallen women” did penitence. Sometimes for life — living, dying there, and being buried in unmarked graves. Young girls who became pregnant out of wedlock. Children taken away and placed into other circumstances — adoption, whether societal or family. Sometimes to repeat the pattern, victims of a “cycle of incarceration,” in Scarbrough’s words. However, not just those circumstances.

Her family could decide that she belonged there. Perhaps she was too flirtatious, whatever that means. Perhaps she was simply too pretty, attracting too much attention. The parish clergy, and her family, finding themselves “offended” by her demeanor, decide that she belongs in such a place. So off she goes, to spend her life in “do penance or perish.” Founded in the early 1900s — perhaps that part doesn’t surprise you —but continuing until well around 10 years ago. Doing laundry. Doing penance. Spending life.

No surprise, then, when in one of the lines in the play, Rose, the mother, says to her daughter, whom she had given up for adoption, “Abandoned you? Abandoned you? I saved you from the plight of Irish women!”

The play raises larger issues. A wonderfully told and crafted story, the implications are much larger.

Adoption — “Who am I really? How much should I be told? How much do I really want to know? Is it perhaps enough to know that someone chose to carry me full term, to bring me into the world?”

Hypocrisy — It (abuse rooted in religion) exists in every culture. As I have noted before, it exists where we are, turn our heads though we may. “Who shall hold it to account? Who shall stop the cycle? How far will it be allowed to go?”

Surreal. One of my students, the day after we attended the play as a group, asked me what “surreal” meant. She had an intuition that the word applied to this situation — Dickensian situations in a modern country — but wasn’t sure if it was the right word to use in her response paper. Yep.

As the title would imply, there is comedy woven throughout — the Southwesterner’s gift of irony that the writer brings to her work. You should also see it for the sake of supporting arts in the area.

Go, though, with your eyes open. This is a multifaceted, multilevel play. You will both laugh and cry.

Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and an instructor at Eastern New Mexico University. He can be contacted at: