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Abortion in Demand

A tragedy with comic overtones

Mar 22, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 26 • By ROGER KIMBALL
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Well, the person who shows up turns out to be Cynthia, née Cindy, formerly Sunny, who married Danny after all. Danny is now sole owner of Home Theatres International, “bigger than Radio Shack.” They have six children and Cynthia, supported in part by Danny’s millions, is part of a pro-life group that goes about trying to convince women not to abort their babies. Her success rate thus far: one hundred percent. 

The women go at it hammer, tongs, and kitchen knives when Amanda discovers that Cynthia is not the doctor she claimed to be. But then Amanda has the idea of inviting Cynthia onto her show as a guest. For it was not so much Amanda’s meatless recipes that boosted her to stardom on NPR; it was her meaty recipe of mixing politics with cooking. “I loved it,” says Cynthia, “when you had Bruce Willis on making that cactus frittata and in the process got him to reveal his right-wingery. And then julienned him like a cabbage.” (Food obviously plays a starring role in Jonathan Reynolds’s life: He wrote a cookery column for the New York Times for several years and, in his 2003 solo performance piece Dinner with Demons, he cooked a five-course meal onstage eight times a week.)

“Often the unknowns are better guests than the superstars,” Amanda confides. “The one person I regret never getting was William F. Buckley. The one I can’t get now is Christopher Hitchens.” 

The verbal pas de deux between Amanda and Cynthia is both coruscatingly funny and breath-stoppingly dramatic. The pro-life and pro-choice positions are advanced and parried with a seasoned debater’s skill. Both actresses revel in their roles. And I should flag Eboni Booth’s riveting demonstration that she was not carrying any concealed weapons. She convinced me, and I, sitting a mere 10 feet away, made a careful inspection. 

I won’t spoil the ending, which is shocking in about 27 different ways. The denouement leaves the viewer not with a tidy solution but a complicated, morally ambiguous knot—just as life is in the habit of doing. 

The adjective “Shavian” occurs frequently in discussions of Jonathan Reynolds’s work. Old Bernard was in many ways a crackpot; he was certainly a political ignoramus of the first water. But he was an effective playwright because he excelled in dramatizing difficult ideas—ideas, that is, that were difficult because they were at odds with his audience’s prejudices and preconceptions. 

Reynolds is indeed Shavian in this sense. In articles and interviews, he is invariably described as “conservative” or listing rightwards. I have no idea about the nature of his personal political convictions. But Girls in Trouble is not a conservative play. For one thing, Mrs. Grundy would be distinctly displeased at its exuberant deployment of four-letter words and the acts they describe. But Girls in Trouble will be denounced as conservative because it does not pay homage to the illiberal “liberal” pieties that are regnant in our culture, including our theatrical culture. Particularly inexcusable, of course, is its complex but largely sympathetic presentation of a committed and articulate pro-lifer. What an outrage! 

“I thought progressives were supposed to be so open to new ideas,” Cynthia says to Amanda. It is part of Jonathan Reynolds’s accomplishment to show us just how closed that vaunted openness can be.

Roger Kimball, editor of the New Criterion, is the author of the forthcoming Much Ado About Noting: A Pedographophilic Chrestomathy of Sly, Admonitory, Informative, Scurrilous, and Amusing Observations from the Bottom of the Page.

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