Abortion Road Trip tells the story of three women in a cab headed to New Mexico from Texas for an abortion. In this reviewer’s experience, shows covering the oh-so-taboo topic tend to be heavy handed, both in their delivery and their politics. Playwright Rachel Lynett and Theatre Prometheus bring levity and lightness to something that has been a traumatic event in the lives of so many women.
The production brings a nuanced and balanced story forward: gentle-at-times, and hard-hitting in the right places. It’s less about the abortions, and much more about the lives surrounding the event, bringing their humanity ever to the forefront. The themes of secrecy and betrayal makes it sound like it’s something full of intrigue and deceit, but really they serve to highlight all the little choices made between people navigating any difficult decision and the subsequent collateral.
The story follows Alexa and Minnie in an 11-hour cab ride from Texas to a clinic in New Mexico. The plot itself mostly unfolds through a series of flashbacks to the events surrounding the lives of the three women on the trip. They share some highs and lows from their lives, and while they regale one another with road-trip games, a character will leave the car to relive a moment, giving context to the trip itself.
It’s interesting storytelling, as the bulk of the emotional pathos does not occur in the cab, but rather through things that have happened in the past. It almost gives notion to the idea that an event such as an abortion should be nothing more than a moment in time, like any other decision, allowing the woman to place the weight on it as she chooses.
Abortion Road Trip
closes July 23, 2017
Lauren Patton (Alexa) flows through complex emotional beats with aplomb and grace, easily encapsulating the determination and hesitation of a young woman who has set her course. Her bright and bubbly demeanor radiates throughout the scenes, even as she continually suffers from foot-in-mouth syndrome.
Dominique C. Brown (Minnie), brings a cynical, sarcastic presence, zinging in one-liners and quips with an excellent deadpan. Brown’s Minnie serves as an excellent foil to Patton’s Alexa, as their personalities are as different as night and day. Yet, their sisterly love shines through time and time again. Rounding out the main cast is the excellent Renae Erichsen-Teal as the Driver, or Kate. Erichsen-Teal brings a lovely, earthy and grounded feel, providing counterpoint to her two passengers. Even while ever-facing forward (which in a way is an apt metaphor for her character arc), she manages to bring warmth and experience, supporting and guiding in small measure through this momentary intersection.
Thais Menendez, Rachel Messbauer, and Stephanie Pounds round out the ensemble, Menendez brings an emotional depth and clarity to Taylor, which in turn helps round out the mostly quiet Driver. As “The best and the worst” Quinn, Messbauer brings a nerdy chic and quiet introverted power to each of her scenes, easily embodying someone who you really want to like, but just can’t. Pounds, as Mom, brings a surprising warmth and sunshine to each of her scenes, no matter how bad the situation. My only wish was that I could see her interact more with both of her daughters.
Director Tracey Erbacher centralizes the action front and center, with a bare-bones view of the car. It takes a lot of trust in a script to keep the actors so centered and seated so often, but that trust pays off as you feel the various energies radiating in the car. The transitions in and out of the flashbacks were both textually and visually a bit clunky, however. Some worked well, seamlessly segueing in and out of the characters memories; others felt a bit forced. In a sense, Erbacher’s direction feels like the hypermodern style of chess playing; attempting to use the wings to control the center. While the attention is appropriately drawn once the new scene is established,, entrances either carried too much gravitas or too little pomp, often distracting from the central scene, or surprising the audience before they could finish processing the scene in front of them. Even with sound cues from the sonic landscape created by Tosi Olufolabi, at best it was clunky, and a bit jarring.
Other than that, Yannick Godts’ lights were simple and effective, paired with the gentle undertow of Olufolabi’s sound, the story and the acting are front and center, and it again serves well to highlight the humanity of the characters involved.
This is just the sort of show that deserves a home at the Capital Fringe Festival and an extremely solid choice for Fringe goers. Simple staging, effective storytelling, and emotionally honest acting tackling heavy subjects – that’s something this reviewer has always loved about Fringe, and was so glad that he kicked off his Capital Fringe 2017 experience with this show.
As an extra mention, when a piece of art brings two pro-life protesters to the gates of DC’s Capital Fringe, I hope it is worn as a badge of honor. Special props to all the artists involved for carrying on despite the occasional overlap of the protesters’ megaphones. While distracting, this reviewer felt the need to specially thank the brave women who pushed forward with their performance despite the ever-present vitriol outside. It is difficult to perform with hecklers; it is even more difficult when those hecklers spout their hatred at every woman involved in the production, on stage and off. This is, ultimately, the kind of show that we wish the protesting duo would watch, and in turn perhaps open a meaningful dialogue by humanizing the living, breathing people.