With the Partial Birth Abortion Act fast-tracking its way through Congress and an unabashedly pro-life president aggressively touting ultraconservative judges for the nation's highest courts, new plays about a woman's right to an abortion are both timely and necessary. In Jane Martin's passionate and paranoid thriller Keely & Du, Keely (Karen Sternberg), a pregnant working-class woman in her second trimester, is taken captive by bumbling members of the scurrilous "Christian" organization Operation Retrieval, whose agenda is to forcibly prevent women from aborting their pregnancies by denying them access to the outside world. Du (Catherine Lynn Dowling) and Walter (Ken Bolden) are her captors, whose actions are all the more infamous as they knowingly force Keely to nurture a fetus which came about through rape. Predictably, Keely and Du develop a porous love-hate relationship, with each tiptoeing toward mutual empathy, challenging the various tactics to change Keely's mind. However, this play never gets beyond the initial concept that inspired it.
Keely & Du is a good example of the "one idea" play in that a new twist is brought to an old concept, but the concept never gets fully developed. In addition to the plot's being far-fetched (Keely is held incommunicado for months and remains essentially healthy), the characters are never genuinely challenged, and thus dramatic action never occurs. Once the central situation is set up, the play gets lost in its own uncharted territory, with repetitious scenes and dialog, melodramatic stalemated showdowns, and a profound lack of engaging drama. With flat dialog and static action, no real exploration of the ideas underneath the text occurs. Plus there is no real sense of suspense or surprise. Due to these textual flaws, the play fails to realize the intricate dynamics of the captor-prisoner relationship that are so essential to the storyline.
The production suffered from a lack of creative vision. Direction (Rachel Wood) failed to achieve dramatic and engaging exploration of the text's concerns. Relationships and character transformation came across as manipulated and artificial, and the emotionality of the characters' situations never felt real. Performances were spirited yet tended to be two-dimensional. Both Bolden and Dowling came off as psychotic and monolithically menacing, while Sternberg did not achieve the nuances of being pregnant and imprisoned. Set design (Katherine McCauley) was truly bare-bones and uninspired. Not only were set pieces generic, but part of the small stage was cordoned off for numerous and probably unnecessary onstage costume changes that consumed 15 percent of the production time. In the end, this production was a missed opportunity to dramatically awaken Americans to the high stakes for women in these neoconservative times.
(Also starring Peter O'Connor.)
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Copyright 2003 Adam Cooper