Abortion, pro or con? The Blessed Unrest theater company has taken on this thorny issue.
Steven Wangh’s Misconceptions—an ironically perfect title—unfolds in the form of a series of interviews which take us into every nook and cranny of the issue—pro and con. It is by no means just a dry documentary or a blasting screed, but a warm, sophisticated and ultimately moving humanization of the subject.
Harriet, an avant-garde performance artist (Hilary Dennis, sensitive and powerful), discovers that she is pregnant after an unplanned tryst with her ex-husband, Jorge (Sean Mana, boyishly handsome and charmingly sincere), forcing her to make the life-changing decision that so many women face.
Harriet has moved from New York City to Iowa for the stability of a teaching position, but she and Jorge have a five-year-old daughter, Alicia who is never seen (voiced by Ethelyn Friend who also astutely plays Harriet’s wavering mother). Jorge is a doting parent but a not-so-hot husband.
Does she want another child? How will it affect her life, her career, her daughter and her ex-husband?
To complicate matters, Harriet’s show at the Museum of Modern Art, “All Fall Down,” in which her own nudity is used to comment on the wars in Ukraine and Syria (!), has been deemed a success except for PETA which has strong objections to the slaughter of live chickens during the performances.
Rejoicing in Harriet’s success is Darcelle (Celli Pitt, tough and energetic), a science teacher and friend and, eventually, one of the people who movingly points her to the right decision about her pregnancy.
While searching Vogue magazine for the positive review of her show, Harriet discovers that Roe v. Wade has been overturned by the Supreme Court. Never one to shy away from controversial subjects, she decides that abortion rights will be the subject of her next show, turning her pregnancy issues into Art, thus lashing her own dilemma to her creative needs.
She enlists a reluctant Jorge to go out and get the male point of view while she goes off on her own journey. Amidst performed excerpts from her “All Fall Down,” she begins her “Misconceptions” discovery path.
Misconceptions becomes a complex living portrait of the intersection of Harriet’s life, her performance art and the points of view of her many interviewees: everyone from an actress in a production of Medea to a reproduction counselor to the daughter of very conservative Christians and Jorge’s macho friends. Her ideas of being an artist come up against her humanity.
Wangh’s astute writing combines with Jessica Burr’s staging to form a kaleidoscopic view of this topic. Those interviewed hold up picture frames as if they were on a computer screen.
Calypso Michelet’s rambling, three-quarters-in-the-round set is flexible enough to accommodate the almost constant movement of the small, but talented cast. Michelet’s assorted props help keep the actors focused. The perfectly character illuminating costumes by Sera Bourgeau, hung on the theater walls for easy access, plus Jay Ryan’s subtle, focusing lighting give the production weight and meaning.
The rest of the cast—Julie Becker (several interviewees), Rich Brown (a Pro-Life lawyer) and Perri Yaniv (the butcher who supplies the chickens plus other characters)—are all top-notch.
What is constantly intriguing about Misconceptions is Wangh’s astute take on his subject, probing the consciousnesses of those standing on either side of the debate.
This is truly one of the most meaningful retorts to the avalanche of mindless, reactionary anti-abortion commotion spreading across America.
Misconceptions (through June 3, 2023)
122CC Theater, 150 First Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.blessedunrest.ticketleap.com
Running time: two hours including one intermission