Saturday, August 06, 2016
Fringe 2016 - The Abortion Chronicles - Quite Possibly The Most Powerful Show In The Fringe - 5 stars
The Red Letter Society, the group behind The Abortion Chronicles, features a lot of the usual suspects from Freshwater Theatre - curators Ariel Leaf, Ben Layne and Ruth Virkus, dramaturgy by Virkus with Alyssa Thompson (who also stage manages), performers Leaf, Mame Pelletier, Scot Moore, Katie Starks and Jesse Corder. So you know you’re in good hands.
“It feels like a privilege to have my heart broken, daily.”
They reached out to the community for people to tell them their stories of abortion. Some people are performing their own stories, some are performing the words of others, some people preferred that their story - though performed - remain anonymous. We also get the words of the people who work at Planned Parenthood and Whole Women’s Health.
“The parents of the dead live for him now and always, even though he’s gone.”
There are any number of ways that something like this could go off the rails. It could be angry, it could be overly sentimental, it could be repetitive, it could just be too damn painful to sit through. The Abortion Chronicles not only avoids all these pitfalls, it opens up and humanizes the issue of abortion in ways I was not expecting. You’ve heard tell of unwanted pregnancies, or fetuses with severe birth defects that need to be aborted for the health of the mother and avoid the needless suffering of the child. But stories of real people in these situations ring true in the way hypothetical discussions just can’t.
“I thanked him, closed my legs, and left.”
Director Layne and the cast (which also includes strong performances from Dana Lee Thompson, Nissa Nordland Morgan, Tonya Wershow, John Leaf, Linda Sue Anderson, Alexis Clarksean, Heidi Garrido, and Opal McCarthy) work every angle - and level - of the Theatre In The Round space. The final image, which I won’t spoil, is simple, stunning and beautiful. The round stage is transformed into a women’s health clinic where patients wait their turn for an appointment, and to speak. Any basic way I describe this piece isn’t going to do it justice. Nothing about the staging, the stories or the performances is expected. The show is constantly serving up something you couldn’t have anticipated. In several instances, the children who are not born are just as present in the mind as the women on stage talking about them.
“I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.”
The Abortion Chronicles is enormously compelling viewing, and quite possibly the most powerful show in the Fringe this year. (If I see too many more shows that knock me back on my heels with the same force this one does, I may need to call for backup.) That said, I welcome theater that moves me like this, over theater that feels safe, any day of the week.
5 stars - Very Highly Recommended