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Review: The Seeing Place Addresses Increasingly Relevant Issues With Jane Martin's 1994 Pulitzer Finalist KEELY AND DU

Right wing activism combating abortion rights

For the first time in twelve years, Americans were being served by a president who fully supported The Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision when the pseudonymed playwright Jane Martin's 1994 Pulitzer finalist KEELY AND DU premiered.

Review: The Seeing Place Addresses Increasingly Relevant Issues With Jane Martin's 1994 Pulitzer Finalist KEELY AND DU
Top: Audrey Heffernan Meyer and Erin Cronican
Bottom: Brandon Walker and Robin Friend

But while Bill Clinton's administration began with the overturning of abortion rights restrictions legislated by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, his years in office were also marred by acts of violence against doctors and clinics that performed the legal procedure.

Martin's extreme vision of anti-abortion activism may have seemed quite dystopian a quarter of a century ago, but The Seeing Place Theater's online production, which played two live performances on Zoom and is available on YouTube through November 7th, comes at a time when extremist activism from the right is on the rise and anti-choice leanings are being reflected in The Supreme Court's newest members.

Since The Seeing Place is donating 100% of their production's proceeds to the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St Louis Region (click here for tickets.), it's obvious where their sympathies on the issue lie. But while the playwright certainly isn't approving of the actions of the drama's anti-choice characters, their ideology is given a fair chance to be heard and the play inspires discussion and questions.

Co-directed by Brandon Walker and Erin Cronican (who are, respectively, the company's Producing and Executive Artistic Directors), the play takes place primarily in the secluded basement being used as a prison by members of Operation Retrieval, "a group of like-minded Christians motivated by a belief in the sanctity of life and the rights of unborn children."

Keely (Cronican), pregnant from a rape and seeking an abortion from a clinic, has been kidnapped and, as the play begins, wakes up to find herself handcuff to a bed. The organization's pastor, Walter (Walker) explains that she will be loved, well cared for and released when she's too far along to have the procedure. All expenses related to birthing will be covered and, if she chooses to raise the child instead of giving it up for adoption, she'll receive financial support and an education fund.

"It cannot be dismissed by calling it a fetus," Walter answers after Keely refers to what's inside her as "just cells." "The child is separate from how it was conceived and must also be considered separate from you."

The play's main relationship is between Keely and her constant companion, registered nurse Du (Audrey Heffernan Meyer), an older, nurturing woman who offers what she believes to be compassion as the justifiably furious Keely demands her freedom.

Review: The Seeing Place Addresses Increasingly Relevant Issues With Jane Martin's 1994 Pulitzer Finalist KEELY AND DU
Top: Olivia Hanna Hardin and Erin Cronican
Bottom: Audrey Heffernan Meyer

The Zoom format has each actor at a separate location, performing directly to their individual cameras as we see Cronican's tough and outspoken Keely grow helpless as attempts to argue her way out of the situation prove futile and she hesitantly accepts the offers of caring tenderness from Meyer's sweet and soft-spoken Du.

"I don't want to get comfortable talking to you," Keely insists, but a bond develops through their mutual experiences with misogyny.

Walter tries to sway Keely's sympathy by describing in graphic detail what the suction device inserted into her womb would do to what he calls her baby, but his organization's desire to use forced motherhood to control women becomes more apparent when a character played by Robin Friend is introduced. Olivia Hanna Hardin completes the cast in her small role.

The excellent company pulled this viewer into the situation so intensely that he found himself yelling at Walter and Du in Keely's defense. Naturally, a staged production would more effectively present pivotal physical moments, but The Seeing Place greatly succeeds in offering an emotionally rich episode of personal and political theatre.

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