If not for Juno, Knocked Up, and Jamie-Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin having already made one of a woman's most private matters a subject acceptable for public gossip, Rebecca Tourino’s play would be unnecessary, maybe even too invasive. Ten years ago, I would not have felt comfortable reviewing Quickening, which gives an inside look at a Planned Parenthood center in Portland, Oregon. It’s not a matter of worrying about being politically correct; it’s more that, as a man, there’s simply no way for me to fully understand the experience, and it's not worth pretending to try. The best I can do is judge Quickening from a theatrical standpoint. From that end, I can safely say Tourino shows some significant storytelling skill and more than a little bravery for Albertine Theatre's first production.
Quickening spares no mundane detail in showing the realities of modern-day abortion in an age when they often get overlooked. It was these details that caused Juno MacGuff to decide to deliver her baby; as frivolous as some saw that justification in Juno, the mundane and logistic issues are some of the biggest roadblocks facing the characters of Quickening. Be it the three-hour drive from the sticks (and waiting even longer for the doctor to show), or the hunger from not being able to eat before surgery, there are more hurdles to overcome in having an abortion than just political or moral stances. Left unspoken for the most part is the backdrop of the health insurance crisis, the safety concerns presented by Army of God types, and the irresponsibility of the fathers when marriage is not involved. Of course, the moral considerations are the ones that last the longest, and we can immediately see changes in the mindsets in all four characters after they—hold your breath—all end up going through with the procedure.
In keeping with the gritty, realistic theme, Tourino has crafted a remarkably complementary, emotionally affecting, and instantly relatable cast of characters. They include a British academic who sees herself as above going to a clinic, a coquettish (or in colloquial terms, slutty) Latin girl with deceptive book smarts, a Catholic mother of two, and a recent college grad, proud (however foolishly) to be making her first decision as a woman. The intelligence of the characters—socially and emotionally as well as intellectually—shifts constantly, depending on the moment and on the character. While the play’s dialogue can get a little too poetic at points, Quickening never sees its characters lose their charms or devolve into archetypes. These realistic characterizations are crucial to Quickening; the more audience members can draw parallels to people they know, the easier it is to admit that the realities of abortion are ever-present in society, but get lost behind the more theoretical issues.
Tourino’s grasp of her characters is on best display when they’re all in the same room; it’s only natural that the Lord of the Flies-like nature of the waiting room, policed by a recovered alcoholic, lesbian nurse, is where the play becomes most captivating. Still, Tourino was right not to let that room give the exclusive picture of the situation. Her dips into the characters’ back stories, while not as immediately attention-grabbing, form the support around the foundation of waiting room scenes. The play is at least half an hour too long, and Quickening could have easily done better by cutting a few backstory scenes (and all of the overlapping dialogue scenes, which take away from the realism anyway). But while the play may languish at points, the core of a skillfully-crafted narrative is most definitely in place.
With all the obstacles facing these women in their choice, it’s a wonder than anyone would go through with the procedure, let alone the one in four American women who have had an abortion (though that rate has dramatically declined over the past decade). But while the play accurately if depressingly sees privacy as a fading priority, the major theme Quickening aims for is in its tag line: “Sometime a choice can mean the beginning of a new life. Yours.” In pursuit of that goal, the play doesn't really find time to take up the longer-term implications of having an abortion. But at the very least, Quickening exposes the reality behind one of the country’s most controversial topics, a reality people rarely dare to see unless they are forced. That’s a significant enough accomplishment in its own right.
Quickening, written and directed by Rebecca Tourino. Starring Michelle Rene Cowin (Round Cheecks), Zach Fletcher (Man), Mia Morland (Crossword), Kjirsten Riccardi (Bright Eyes), Amanda Sayles (Ankle Socks), and Stephanie Staes (Nurse).
Presented by Albertine Theatre at Center Stage, 48 W. 21st St., NYC. Sept. 17-28. Wed.-Sun., 8 p.m. For tickets call (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or visit Theatermania.Powered by Sidelines