THE BASICS: Jane Martin’s high-octane abortion rights drama has been revived by the Subversive Theatre Collective, and plays weekends at the Manny Fried Playhouse, through February 6th. Toni Smith Wilson directs a cast of six. The play, with its single intermission, runs a little over two hours.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Keely, a dirt-poor, working-class divorcee, has recently conceived a baby under the direst of possible circumstances. (No spoilers from me!) In line at the abortion clinic, she awakens to find that she has been drugged and abducted by a cadre of radical Right-to-Lifers. Their agenda: to keep Keely and the fetus “safe” for the next several months, until it will be too late for her to have the intended abortion. Hancuffed to a gurney, the captive Keely must deal with both Walter, the pastor-ringleader who will stop at nothing to convert/subvert her, and Du, a kindly RN who is her constant caretaker, and who fancies herself a good foot soldier in this Army of God.
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION: Jane Martin’s (a pseudonym—the author has never declared her/himself) gutsy little drama has not lost any punch since its 1993 premiere. The fundamental issues are as inflammatory and divisive as ever. Abortion providers (like Planned Parenthood—who provided an excellent talk-back on the night I attended) continue to be targeted, and, in an increasing number of states, women’s reproductive rights are being legislated out of existence. And so, sadly, KEELY is anything but a period piece. It’s an ideal choice for the Subversive Theatre Collective, however, and I applaud them for remounting this underappreciated work here in Buffalo. The principal actors, under the sure direction of Toni Smith Wilson, are all properly commanding. Kudos especially to Kelly M. Beuth and Kate Olena, who shine in the title roles. Playwright Martin is wise enough not to make a cartoon of all of this. There is enough development of the Lifers to allow us to get into their heads a little bit, get some sense of their fervor and their anguish. This is all to the good. KEELY AND DU probably won’t change anyone’s mind outright, but it’s commendably thought-provoking theater! The spare set by Christopher Wilson is appropriately prison-like. A constant ticking clock sound from John Shotwell ratchets up the tension.
IN SUM: This powerful and still very relevant drama has been well mounted by the Subversive Theatre Collective, and is really worthy of your time. It’s quite likely that you will be discussing it in the car on your way home, perhaps for considerably longer. Just don’t go expecting a “fun night out”!
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!