Jane: Abortion and the Underground, Green Highway Theater, at the Chopin Theatre. Few issues elicit a greater emotional response than abortion rights. Here journalist and playwright Paula Kamen dramatizes the experiences of the Hyde Park women who responded to this issue by creating an underground abortion service that helped 11,000 Chicago women between 1969 and 1973. Kamen constructed Jane: Abortion and the Underground from years of interviews and research. Neatly interweaving monologues and dramatic scenes, she shifts the spotlight from philosophical arguments to stories about the emotional impact of abortion and denial of the right to choose. The play is not propaganda: characters opposed to abortion, while unsympathetic, are allowed to voice real concerns about the dangers of the homegrown operation. Kamen doesn’t present her side as absolutely good but as the best alternative under unfortunate circumstances.
Distinct, diverse characters add flavor. Ariel Brenner’s Naomi–denied an abortion even though she has Hodgkin’s disease–shows unrelenting determination. Marilyn Bielby offsets the more aggressive characters with her warmhearted hippie simplicity. All the women have powerful moments, though they sometimes slip into oratory mode even when straightforward conversation is called for. The men–particularly Mike Cooney as the compassionate pastor–create credible characters. And the production staff does well, establishing the time period through authentic costumes and music.
Everyone–but women especially–should hear this story. However, it’s not a comfortable experience. Two and a half hours on this heavy subject is almost too much to bear. –Kim Wilson