An unconscious young woman is wheeled into a bare room by two men. A grandmotherly-looking woman removes her clothes, dresses her in a plain nightgown and carefully tucks her into bed. She handcuffs the young woman’s left hand to the cast-iron bedframe, which has been bolted to the floor.
The young woman’s name is Keely, we learn in short order, and she is seeking an abortion after being raped by her ex-husband. But she has been kidnapped by a radical anti-choice group called “Operation Retrieval,” who will force her to stay in this basement room with Du the elderly nurse and footsoldier in the pro-life battle until her seventh month of pregnancy, when she can no longer legally seek an abortion.Order now
Those whose pro-choice blood is already boiling at this scenario may be surprised that the pseudonymous Jane Martin’s Keely & Du, according to director Jon Jory, is a play about our views of forgiveness. “The play asks: When is forgiveness possible? When is forgiveness necessary? When is forgiveness in itself a sin?” says Jory, who directed Keely & Du’s premiere last spring at Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival and will remount it at Connecticut’s Hartford Stage, where it runs Nov. 13-Dec. 18. (Productions are also due later this season at Houston’s Alley Theatre, the Pope Theatre Company of Manalapan, Fla. and Michigan’s Purple Rose Theatre Company.)
Complex, painful landscape
“Is it possible that a rapist can ever be forgiven?,” Jory ponders hypothetically. “If you consider abortion murder–which many people do, obviously then is it possible to forgive the people who in your view commit this murder? So the play is about forgiveness on several levels.”
The Hartford production reunites the Louisville cast, led by Anne Pitoniak as Du and Julie Boyd as Keely. While the changes to the script have been minimal, moving Keely & Du to Hartford means transferring from an intimate 159-seat theatre to one more than three times as large, where scenic designer Paul Owen will attempt to retain the claustrophobic sense of the first production.
The taut and deeply felt performances of Boyd and Pitoniak gave a human face to both sides of the abortion debate–faces which many people on both sides would just as soon forget. “I think it opened my mind to be more compassionate to that point of view,” Boyd says of her exposure to the anti-abortion outlook voiced in the play. “Now I can understand how somebody can feel that, where I think before I simply dismissed it as not being fair to me, or to my point of view.”
Jory agrees that the play opens a dialogue: “It is the author’s view that this is a play about the incredibly complex and painful landscape that those espousing two different sides on this issue must traverse to be able to begin a conversation.” Indeed, both sides present passionate arguments in this battle over Keely’s body the scenario does not seem overly far-fetched in the face of recent radical anti-choice violence. In the first scenes of the play Keely says very little, and Walter the preacher (played by Bob Burrus) who tries to convert the young woman to the anti-abortion side lectures her on the progress of the embryo and shows her pictures of aborted fetuses.
“The child is separate from how it was conceived and must also be considered separately from you,” Walter tells the shackled Keely. “Your emotions about the conception and the child are valid and honest, but they are not the point. The emotion is not the child. I have no wish to choose between you but if I must, I choose the child who has no earthly advocate.”
A change of clothes
There are advantages to hearing both sides of the issue, Jory says, however heartfelt and unchangeable one’s opinions may be. “There are a lot of people who have taken a position in this area without ever having heard the other side talk. There are pro-lifers sitting around talking to each other in churches who haven’t heard anybody else unless they’re screaming at them, and the same is true of the pro-choice side,” Jory asserts. “So that I think what makes the play an uncomfortable experience is that you’re forced to be in a room where people who are not 18-feet-tall green monsters with scales and tails discuss the issue.”
“There were nights when the pain coming from the audience was very difficult ” Pitoniak remembers of the Louisville production. “Everybody in the audience knows something about this either very personally, or through a friend, a daughter, a cousin, whatever. You start with people who know what you are talking about in many ways.”
As the play progresses, Keely and Du move closer together, not as representatives of disparate ideological movements, but as two people forced to recognize the humanity of the other. Keely tells Du the details of her rape and Du tells Keely about her marriage, which only blossomed after she and her husband became religious. The two women ever; join forces to celebrate Keely’s birthday: Du removes the handcuffs, brings in a six-pack of beer and has Keely’s dress dry-cleaned so she can change out of the nightgown.
Walter shatters that growing trust when he brings Cole (J. Ed Araiza), Keely’s rapist ex-husband who has been “rehabilitated” by Operation Retrieval, to beg for her forgiveness and a second chance. “It is crucial to the dramaturgy of the play that the audience be unsure whether Keely could forgive him or not,” Jory says of this critical moment in the play. It is the wire hanger from the dry-cleaned garment that facilitates a wrenching conclusion to an insurmountable situation.
Some people have criticized the play for not being political enough. If that is the play’s failing it is also the play’s intention,” Jory says. “It ruthlessly attempts to treat the issue as a human issue from which you would deduce politics, rather than a political issue which simply wants to make a statement about the situation.”