Abortion in Demand
A tragedy with comic overtones
Mar 22, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 26 • By ROGER KIMBALL
In Stonewall Jackson’s House, Reynolds said some unpalatable things about the miasma of political correctness that hovers over the theater world. Gasp. Titters. Did the black girl in period dress showing folks around the Stonewall Jackson house museum really just offer to go home with the gormless white couple to be their slave? Okay—but “We’re not going to call you ‘slave.’ We’ll call you an ‘associate.’” Yikes. And that’s just the beginning.
In Girls in Trouble, Reynolds tackles another impossible subject: abortion. The play is in three acts. The first act shows two college kids, Hutch (Andy Gershenzon) and Teddy (Brett Aresco), hurtling down Interstate 71 outside Cleveland at one in the morning. It’s 1962, a couple of years after the FDA approved the Pill, a decade before Roe v. Wade. Passed out in the backseat is Barb (Betsy Lippitt), a few months’ pregnant, one of the many girls Hutch has bedded, to the intense admiration and envy of Teddy. They’re looking for an abortionist in a seedy “colored neighborhood” and they’re late. They need to hurry because Barb has to be back first thing to take her econ final.
Reynolds excels in wrapping raw truths in the sugar of humor. The exchanges between Hutch and Teddy about sex; the scene in which Hutch has cursory, vertical sex with Barb in order to cajole her into having the abortion (“Jesus, what you have to do sometimes”); the scenes with Sandra (Akyiaa Wilson), the former Army nurse turned abortionist, and her seven-year-old daughter Cindy (Eboni Booth)—all are both brutal and hilarious.
“How, how do you do it?” asks Hutch. “Massage the uterus,” Sandra explains. “Induce a miscarriage.” Hutch to Teddy a bit later: “Where is the uterus?” Cindy, who sneaks downstairs to play with her newborn kittens, seems at first to offer a humanizing touch to the tawdry scene. Then one of the kittens bites her, and she casually snaps its neck and lets it drop to the floor. So much for that little life.
Fast forward two decades. It’s 1983. A lot has changed in America. The sexual revolution has swept the country. So has the feminist revolution, one of many things that proved that “free love” would turn out to be an oxymoron that tendered an expensive tab. Act II is brief, maybe 15 minutes. The whole thing is devoted to a sort of rap monologue by “Sunny,” the little girl Cindy 20 years on. She’s fallen for Danny, aspiring electronics entrepreneur, who seems to have gone off her a bit. This has made Sunny bitter. “Who’s got the power now, dog? I do—women do. We got the law on our side.” Sunny’s just discovered she’s pregnant. Danny is delighted: He wants to marry her and dreams of walking his child to school. Sunny is not so sure:
Eboni Booth gives a mesmerizing performance as Sunny, aided not a little by a brilliantly written script. Reynolds has perfect pitch for the rap patter and street lingo, which he unfolds and elaborates like a virtuoso performing a Liszt cadenza. Act II ends with Sunny wailing that, since Danny doesn’t love her, she’ll abort the child: “My momma used to do abortions for a living back when it was illegal, nothin’ to it, ’cept for that once. . . . And you think I won’t do it? I snaps cats’ necks.”
Skip forward another 20 years. Act III—by far the longest of the play—opens to the emetic strains of the All Things Considered theme. “I’m Wellesley St. Louis St. Drem,” says the radio voiceover, “and tonight on All Things Considered we’ll look at just how awful the world is, why America made it that way, and the unmitigated success of apology in our foreign policy. But first, stay tuned for The Virtuous Vegan, with our favorite chef de cuisine, Amanda Stark [Laurel Holland].”
Ah, the Virtuous Vegan! I’m sure you know one or two. We’re in Amanda’s kitchen and immediately learn she’s had a bad day. She was mowed down by a bicycle messenger, who dislocated her hip. In the emergency room, the doctor has alarming news. Not only was Amanda banged up, she was also knocked up: She’s 25 weeks pregnant. Amanda instantly made an appointment to have an abortion the next day. She gets a call from an OB-GYN at the hospital who offers to come over and tell her about the strategies the hospital has to help celebrities like her avoid the paparazzi and nurses who might be stringers for the National Enquirer.