It’s typically the anti-abortion activists—the sign-wavers outdoor clinics, the tellers of post-op horror tales—who need to display you, in nice element, what a fetus looks as if. There’s one thing concerning the peach-and-hibiscus surprise of flesh and blood, concerning the smallness of that embryonic presence: the image is meant to appall you into some new frame of mind and feeling concerning the politics of beginning. It’s most effective proper, then, that the primary large snort of the raucously pro-choice musical “The Appointment,” by means of the Philadelphia-based theatre collective Lightning Rod Particular, directed by means of Eva Steinmetz at WP Theatre, is earned with a identical roughly illustration.
When the curtain opens, there’s a fetus onstage, shifting slowly and subtly, as though bobbing in fluid. It’s quickly joined by means of a number of others. We all know they’re fetuses exactly on account of the ones photographs we’ve observed used as agitprop, despite the fact that we’ve strained to keep away from them. The fetuses are performed by means of contributors of Lightning Rod Particular—Katie Gould, Jaime Maseda, Lee Minora, Brett Ashley Robinson, Scott R. Sheppard, Alice Yorke, and Danny Wilfred, all vibrating with skill and hip smarts—dressed in skintight, skin-colored fits marbled with purplish-gray veins. From their tummies sprout ropelike umbilical cords.
Those outfits, humorous and gross, are emblematic of the display’s strategy to abortion—as an alternative of treating it as an “factor” to be seemed from a deferential and pious distance, “The Appointment” sniffs out taboos and hunts them down on the tempo of a dash. Right here’s a taboo for you: the refrain of fetuses develop into the play’s major characters—or, a minimum of, they get essentially the most level time. They sing and dance and inform jokes (the e-book is by means of Yorke, Steinmetz, Sheppard, and Alex Bechtel, who additionally wrote the song); they have interaction in crowd paintings with the target market. They’re obnoxious and needy, egocentric and critical. The fetuses are stage-hogging hams—which is sensible, given how a lot of the nationwide political highlight, in Preferrred Courtroom hearings and state legislative chambers and on referendum ballots, they’ve change into acquainted with.
They even speak about their futures. When one cries out, “I used to be going to treatment most cancers!,” every other retorts, “Oh Reginald you’re a gambler now not a physician!” But every other forecasts a humbler destiny: “I used to be going to be on ‘Tiger King’!” The one option to herd them offstage is to offer them the “hook.” That show-biz cliché has a pointed that means right here. A glinting surgical device presentations up over and over again to prevent the incessant fetal chatter.
“The Appointment” is, if truth be told, much less a musical than a type of cabaret or selection display. Call to mind a gleefully spiky, feminist model of “The Carol Burnett Display,” or a different episode of the early, punk-fuelled “Saturday Evening Are living.” (The large, padded heads of the fetus costumes jogged my memory greater than as soon as of Eddie Murphy’s Gumby getup.) The one actual tale comes when the fetuses are offstage. A lady, Louise Peterson, performed with stoic calm by means of Yorke, is going to a health center to get an abortion. She wears a paper robe and is attended to by means of a happy, skilled scientific assistant named Oliver, performed by means of Wilfred. (“Ooh I really like your socks!” he says.) Time and again, Louise is requested her date of beginning: “07/24/89,” she helps to keep pronouncing with a fab persistence.
Assuming that the motion of the play is going on in 2023, Louise is a thirty-three-year-old lady, grown, totally acutely aware of what she’s doing. In what appears like the one completely trustworthy music of the display, she sings:
That’s a pointy distinction with the cautionary video that Louise’s physician is legally obligated to play for her and the opposite girls with whom she awkwardly sits within the health center’s ready room. Dr. Parsons (Sheppard) turns out type, and is palpably mortified by means of the procedural stumbling blocks he has to position those girls thru—together with a twenty-four-hour ready length that may well be the actual span of the play, the fetuses striking on to at least one final planetary twirl beneath the lighting. The video presentations an extended, melodramatic aria sung by means of regretful former abortion sufferers, carried out, mockingly, by means of the lads in Lightning Rod Particular’s corporate. “Get me a razor, so I will erase all of the ache,” certainly one of them howls.
Every other prison necessity: Louise has to have a look at an image—now not a kind of ugly hyperreal images that display up at rallies however a sonogram. Dr. Parsons asks her to provide an explanation for what she sees. “I simply have to jot down one thing down,” he says. The individuals who make rules like this suppose, one supposes, that the sonogram symbol, a staticky moon touchdown in monochrome, would possibly instance a last-ditch upheaval within the pregnant lady’s center. However to Louise the image is an abstraction. She describes it in a befuddled ekphrasis, like an artwork scholar taking a look at an difficult to understand slide, bringing none of its ideological weight to the duty. “I imply it’s blurry. It’s roughly . . . shifting a little bit bit,” she says. “It’s in black and white—I don’t know.”
All this industry about photographs is difficult, and tetchy, and unusual. It’s simple to consider a pro-choice argument in opposition to “The Appointment”—that, regardless of the satiric intentions of its creators, there’s simply an excessive amount of chance interested by representing fetuses as individuals, or in airing the arguments of anti-abortionists. The fetuses parrot and parodize pro-choice analogies—inherently visible—about their dimension. “Wager what, mommy? I’m as large as an olive,” one says. “I’m as large as a sizzling fudge sundae with a little bit cherry on most sensible and I’m candy like one, too. However don’t devour me please!” every other pleads.
However the fetuses additionally paint footage of lifestyles outdoor the womb. They fantasize about having a pleasant dad. (“My dream daddy subsidizes my lifestyles as an artist.”) They make guarantees to the ladies who might or would possibly not carry them to time period. “We’ll make you’re feeling so complete—we’re what you dreamed of,” they sing. “Tiny, however stuffed with soul.” In promotional fabrics, the contributors of Lightning Rod Particular assert, by means of explaining their rationale for restaging this display, which premièred in 2019, that “the will for other folks to confront their participation within the methods that were given us this is extra urgent than ever.” (By way of “right here,” in fact, they imply lifestyles after the new repeal of the constitutional proper to an abortion, following the Preferrred Courtroom’s Dobbs v. Jackson determination, final summer time.)
However the display does one thing else fully. As a substitute of excoriating the target market for its complicity, it mashes our faces into the scattered, swept-aside mess of pictures and tropes which might be connected umbilically with abortion in our minds and cultural recollections. It asks us whether or not it issues, or how a lot it issues, how we envision the fetus—as a bean, or a taco, or a ghost, or a smear on a display, and even, maximum harrowingly, as an individual with a daddy and a nascent humorousness. The play makes you take a look at all of this, forcing you to courtroom, with squirm-inducing readability, the imaginings that come by means of taking a look.
In a poem titled “Orlando,” just lately printed in The Country, the author Megan Fernandes indulges in the similar roughly unmournful hypothesis about what would possibly have change into, in another fact, of an aborted kid:
Fernandes echoes Anne Sexton, who, bearing in mind “this child that I bleed,” wrote stoically, “Someone who must were born / is long past.” The bold, unstated declare of “The Appointment” is that right here, post-Dobbs, with abortion up within the air and out within the open all over again, extra perilously than ever, there’s truly no hurt in footage or imaginable futures, counterfactuals or graven photographs. Allow them to multiply. You may even get amusing. ♦