BWW REVIEW: Holzman's CHOICE Receives World Premiere at Boston's Huntington Theatre

Written by Winnie Holzman; directed by Sheryl Kaller; scenic design, James Noone; costume design, Mariann S. Verheyen; lighting design, Rui Rita; sound design, Leon Rothenberg

Cast in Order of Appearance:

Erica Temple, Connie Ray; Clark Plumly, Munson Hicks; Zipporah "Zippy" Zunder, Johanna Day; Mark/The Other Mark, Ken Cheeseman; Zoe Zunder Plumly/Leah or Lena, Madeline Wise; Hunter Rush, Raviv Ullman

Performances and Tickets:

Now through November 15, Huntington Theatre Company, Wimberly Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St., Boston, Mass.; tickets start at $25 and are available online at www.huntingtontheatre.org or by calling the Box Office at 617-266-0800

All these years after the passage of Roe v. Wade, abortion is still an incendiary issue. Opponents continue to fight a woman's right to choose, and many politicians and religious leaders persist in gnawing angrily on the topic as if a ruling were still up for debate.

This Fall two of Boston's finest theater companies have taken the discussion out of the public arena and made it much more personal. Last month Company One Theatre explored the devastating reality of do-it-yourself abortions among teenagers in Ruby Rae Spiegel's unflinching new play DRY LAND. Now the Tony Award-winning Huntington Theatre Company examines the lingering, long-range effects of abortion in CHOICE, a provocative new play by Winnie Holzman (Wicked, My So-Called Life) that has a woman caught in the throes of a mid-life crisis looking back on the choice she made in her feminist youth.

Zipporah "Zippy" Zunder (the wonderful Johanna Day) is dealing with an aging husband, a daughter about to leave the nest, and an investigative writing assignment that challenges her to rethink her entire life. The more she researches the controversial organization called Children Lost and Found (CLAF), the more open she becomes to the foundation's admittedly polarizing premise: that the souls of aborted fetuses are transported into babies born exactly nine months and 49 days after the pregnancy's termination. Despite her fulfilling career, wonderful family and analytical mind, Zippy grows more and more captivated by the theorized phenomenon central to CLAF's mission. What if her own aborted fetus were to resurface as a "rediscovered child?"

In between the realistically edgy and oddly ethereal, Holzman weaves comic gold into CHOICE. With her trademark off-beat style and clever wordplay she fashions a script that balances the commonplace with the outlandish. Holzman sets salt-of-the-Earth Zippy spinning not only by the topic she is investigating but also by her volatile best friend Erica (a bitingly funny Connie Ray) and her aimless and moody daughter Zoe (a just-right Madeline Wise). Zippy is also challenged by the failing health of her Pulitzer Prize-winning husband Clark (a warm and witty Munson Hicks) and a young self-appointed research apprentice named Hunter Rush (a charismatic Raviv Ullman) who makes Zippy more and more agitated when he simply won't take no for an answer. Even the ghostly, unseen alley cat who scratches insistently at the kitchen doggy door strikes disproportionate amounts of fear into the usually well-grounded matriarch.

When dialog suddenly takes a jolting turn toward the polemic, CHOICE almost gets derailed. But Day and Ray manage to keep Zippy and Erica's climactic political argument so firmly rooted in the personal that instead of sinking into the script's one major pitfall they manage to elevate the ambiguity of "choice" to an even higher level. The impact is unexpected and stunning.

As usual with the Huntington, design elements are impeccable. James Noone's expansive country-chic kitchen is exquisite in every detail, and the way it morphs easily into two different bedrooms, a women's clinic and a day spa is magical. Rui Rita's lighting switches effortlessly between bright daylight and otherworldly shadows, distinguishing cleverly between the events of the present and the memories of the past. Likewise Leon Rothenberg's sound effects run the gamut from humorous to haunting, and Mariann S. Verheyen's costumes range from smartly casual to whimsically comic.

CHOICE is Holzman's first play since penning the ever popular Wicked. It should be interesting to see where it goes after enjoying a successful world premiere here in Boston.

PHOTOS BY T. CHARLES ERICKSON: Madeline Wise as Zoe and Johanna Day as Zippy; the cast of CHOICE at the Huntington Theatre Company; Johanna Day and Raviv Ullman as Hunter; Connie Ray as Erica and Johanna Day; the cast of CHOICE


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From This Author Jan Nargi