Saturday, June 2, 2018

Mary Miller - Ferris Wheel (Overview)
Ferris Wheel is an unexpected play in that it seems too simple on the surface, but when you sit to analyze it, more things become evident about the characters, their background and the lives they lead: all this in the space of 10-15 pages. One could say this is a short story disguised as a play.

The plot is basic, the dialogue is uncomplicated, the setting minimalist. But like the surface of a calm sea, what lies beneath is more than the eye can see at first glance. 

So dive into the depths of this play and discover the lives that reside among the seaweed and coral reefs. This play is the new land and funfair version of ships that pass in the night, fleeting, meeting, on their way again.

For those looking for an online version of the text, the only (very poor) copy I found was here, with several scribbles and notes. 

Click on the picture for explanations of literary terms

Mary Miller – Ferris Wheel


  • Mary Miller, born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
  • was an actress (both onstage + on TV) before she became a writer
  • Ferris Wheel is a play incorporated in a health and wellness program she created (Acting Healthy)
    • program includes acting tips and techniques to help people lead happier, healthier lives


  • on a Ferris wheel
  • present day


  • comedy
  • romantic comedy


  • John has to share a seat next to Dorie on a Ferris wheel: line is too long to let any seats go unused
  • Dorie is afraid of heights
  • John is afraid to quit smoking
  • Dorie rides a Ferris wheel every year on her birthday
  • Ferris wheel stops
  • their insecurities come out while they wait for the Ferris wheel to start again
  • they kiss
  • once they get off they formally say goodbye but John asks her as they part whether she’ll be back next year


  • minimal cast: one man, one woman
  • John
    • divorced
    • traveling salesman
    • started smoking since he was 12 yrs old
    • has become used to being alone: “You get over it. You adjust.”
    • sociable, polite, amiable, easy to talk to:
      • sees her frightened so talks to her, doesn’t ignore her until the end of the ride
      • “Are you comfortable?”
      • keeps asking her if she’s all right
      • apologizes
      • compliments her: “But you filled out nicely.”
    • probably the one in the marriage who went along with what the wife said
      • she got up and left him
      • “They force you to be a couple whether you want to or not.”
    • worried about health
      • when he sees her gripping the bar and her knuckles are turning white, his thinks how this isn’t good for her circulation
      • he stops smoking the minute Dorie describes the demonstration of what smoking does to your lungs
      • fears he’s getting older
      • worries he’s “going to blow up like a blimp” from eating a lot once he quits smoking
      • stops biting his fingernails as soon as Dorie tells him about her roommate from school who got gangrene from an infected hangnail
    • he’s the man who comforts, has a calming explanation for everything:
      • “They’re probably making an adjustment. We’ll be moving … any minute.”
      • “Anything is possible.”
      • “Truth is stranger than fiction.”
      • tells her to look up as if she were lying on her back in a field
      • says it won’t rain because his knee locks up when it rains
      • “It’s mind over matter.” “It’s all will power.”
      • “The prettiest girl doesn’t always win.”
    • his cool, calm exterior hides insecurities
      • his calming techniques have been mastered through years of practice on himself (“Visualization. See a stream. A peaceful … quiet … winding stream….”)
      • “I feel fat. Do I look fat?”
      • he apologizes several times to her and says it’s his fault (family might have made him feel guilty for everything he did)
    • marked by his strict grandmother: relates her to money, and relates money to success
      • his mind connects going places with the black leather purse his grandma used to have: “I thought without that purse, she wasn’t going any place… Not Heaven … not Hell.”
      • she haunts her house in search for her purse (connection to one’s money transcends death)
      • she never let him chew gum because she was miserly, thought it was a waste of money:
        • she probably taught him to save money, be frugal more than he would have liked
        • now he might realize he hasn’t enjoyed life (his car is a small one; he used to steal money from the collection plate at mass)
        • unconsciously he’s become money-driven like his grandmother: tells Dorie he’ll pay her $100 if she stops talking
      • reason he jumps when Dorie throws him her black leather purse and his “NO! No, I can wait.” shows the extent of his grandmother’s discipline tactics

  • Dorie (from Dorien)
    • woman without her own voice/will/point of view; her statements are full of family clich├ęs
      • she never questions but repeats or does what family members have told her
        • father: do sth that frightens you once a year; “Builds character. Strengthens moral fiber.”
        • mother: “You’re as old as you feel.” ; “…it was our social obligation to be entertaining.” ; never take money from a stranger
        • grandmother: chewing gum is tacky, socially incorrect
        • her mother would never let her cook
        • she’ll return next year to ride the Ferris wheel because her family is “keen on tradition.”
      • she reads horoscopes to tell her when she’ll be lucky / to tell her what to do
      • she never experiences but recounts the experiences of others / watches the lives of others while hers goes by
        • cousin who got locked up in the attic during a thunderstorm and was burnt to a crisp along with the house
        • cousin who made her debut in the Vietnam War
        • her sister who was a Nixon supporter during the Watergate Convention
        • watches Kennedy’s funeral for a week
        • reads stories about snowbound victims in the Andes (true 1972 event) or shipwrecked survivors on a desert island
        • Miss Congeniality story
        • is interrupted when she starts the story about her aunt in Dublin
    • her insecurity isn’t only linked to her fear of heights, it’s a feeling of general insecurity
      • she believes what happened to those who were stranded in the Andes or on a desert island will happen to her
      • she says she can’t stop talking only when she’s nervous, but continues to talk non-stop when she gets off the Ferris wheel safely
      • always looks on the negative side of life: John tells her to look up not down; when she does, she doesn’t realize it helps; what she sees is only that it’s going to rain so the wheel will get stuck because of rust
      • sees bad omens in everything: today the cream in her coffee curdled up like a map of the Himalayas
    • she’s a romantic at heart but her fears cloud her life
      • “Instead of falling in love you have to worry about being dinner.”
    • what defines her = she wants to be liked by others
      • this is what her family held as precious in life (if Miss Congeniality were a member of the family, the family would have been proud)


  • phobia / fear
    • psychological phobias people have
    • fear people have of others
    • fear people have of living, having their own willpower
  • nostalgia
    • both think about the past: “I used to be thin.”
    • this nostalgia is brought on by the fact that both are having to deal with growing older and being alone
    • John decided to ride the Ferris wheel because he “used to do this as a kid…”
    • Dorie’s references to what her family said and did could also be a form of nostalgia
    • John’s solution for Dorie to look up as if she’s lying in a field on her back implies he remembers how soothing it was when he did the same as a younger boy
    • Dorie remembers the maps she used to make in high school out of flour and salt water
    • John remembers his grandmother who kept her money in a black leather purse


  • Ferris wheel
    • circle of life, Samsara, ‘what goes around comes around’
      • Samsara: fundamental concept of Indian / Dharmic religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism); in Sanskrit it means “wandering”, “world”, “cyclic change”
      • in this sense, the Ferris wheel symbolizes life’s flow: its ups and downs, starts and stops, its sudden jolts
      • the message here is that in life we are placed next to strangers in the same car, spend a full cycle with them, then part to maybe meet up with them again later
    • rat wheels / exercise wheels
      • in this sense, the Ferris wheel symbolizes an eternal, pointless activity
      • rat wheels are toys in cages, meant to keep animals fit to avoid obesity and boredom
        • this implies that people are caged and seek forms of diversion to distract them from a situation that creates stress and doesn’t allow excess energy, creativity, emotions from being released

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