Adapted by Taryn Wisky and Heather Lanza from a play by Eugene O'Neill; Directed by Heather Lanza
Part of the 2014 Dream Up Festival
Off Off Broadway, Revival/Adaption of a Play
Runs through 8.24.14
Theatre for the New City, 155 First Avenue
by Cindy Pierre on 8.20.14
Molly Stoller, Alison Scaramella, Taryn Wisky, and Yvonne Roen in Abortion: A Race Redux. Photo by David Johnson.
BOTTOM LINE: A gutsy and ambitious adaptation of a lesser-known Eugene O’Neill one-act play that tackles two inflammatory topics, race and spiritual abortion, with modest success.
America is now once again aflame with racial dissent. Tensions are exploding across the nation, set off most recently in Ferguson, Missouri with the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by white policeman Darren Wilson. Demonstrations and protests have been erupting for days, lamenting the lost life of an unarmed youth who half of the world says was only guilty of race. In a timely assertion of their own, Making It Happen Productions’ Abortion: A Race Redux uses a 1914 Eugene O’Neill play as a platform to sound off on what race relations looks like 100 years later. However, the leap from one century to the next doesn’t always connect.
Set against the backdrop of two panels teeming with newspaper clippings that scream race, Abortion: A Race Redux begins with little subtlety, and that’s exactly the point. With great spirit and energy, the multi-cultural talented ensemble, clad in period attire, tackles the issue of race immediately with an overview of slavery and where the degradation of the black race began. Although the presentation is a little corny, under Heather Lanza’s precise direction, the ensemble has good physicality and their voices project beautifully. As the show looks back at the inception of oppression in America, Daniel Carlton earnestly delivers a monologue about the opposing forces that exist in Black Americans: “…two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body….” that frames the whole show. Unfortunately, there is so much repetition and aggression with these topics that some of the art of Abortion: A Race Redux gets lost, affecting the reception and potential enjoyment of the piece.
O'Neill's original Abortion play is about Jack Townsend (Clint J. Hromsco and Damon Trammell), a hotshot, well-to-do college baseball player who’s on top of the world until an affair with a townie named Nellie goes horribly awry. Right on the cusp of marrying his sweetheart and peer Evelyn (Taryn A. Wisky and Alison Scaramella), he finds out that the abortion that he paid for Nellie to have has killed her. Abortion: A Race Redux takes the impetus behind sweeping this townie under the rug and applies it to America sweeping the essence of blackness under the rug, thereby extending to black people hiding their own true essence. This three-fold, destructive link, though substantiated by societal infrastructure, is weakened by clunky integration between the original material and the modern adaptations.
Although O’Neill’s play is presented in its entirety, Abortion: A Race Redux occasionally intersperses new material to solidify its main point: in order for a black person to be an American, his or her blackness needs to be aborted and America is largely responsible for the forced procedure. However, this and other perspectives are not voiced with changes in dialogue, setting, or characters. Rather, new monologues, gimmicks and vignettes full of clichés (except for the apropos one delivered by Wisky about black people not choosing the name Brown for Ferguson’s Michael Brown) are pasted onto the stage like torn pages affixed to the past and present. For emphasis, crucial scenes from Abortion are performed with a white cast and then swapped out for a black one, leaving you with the idea that black people have been assimilated into white people’s realities and have not been able to retain their own. Excellent position, but the execution needs work. Here, “black” links are added to what is essentially a “white” story, the very thing that Abortion: A Race Redux is railing about. The new show would fare much better if more concepts were completely reimagined and new ideas were married to old ones.
It is believed that O’Neill wrote Abortion out of guilt for leaving his first wife and firstborn behind. To that end, Abortion: A Race Redux does make the audience think about and possibly grieve the loss of black identity. As the black and white versions of Evelyn, Jack’s fiancé, respectively, Taryn Wisky and Alison Scaramella both deliver the antidote: “Jack, it’s alright dear. You can come out of hiding.” However, as a patron, you are either striving to make this association in some instances or being bludgeoned with it in others. Like Abortion: A Race Redux suggests, not everything and everyone should be absorbed, and some differences should be respected. However, for the purposes of clarity and comprehension, some things must join together.
(Abortion: A Race Redux plays at the Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, through August 24, 2014. Remaining performances are Wednesday 8/20 at 9PM; Saturday 8/23 at 2PM; and Sunday 8/24 at 8PM. Tickets are $15 and are available at www.smarttix.com. For more show info visit www.dreamupfestival.org.)