By Guest Contributor Lauren Beach
Gadfly Theatre’s Production of Elizabeth Heffron’s, “Mitzi’s Abortion: A Saint’s Guide to Late-Term Politics and Abortion in America”: A Review
On October 19, 2012, I went to Gadfly Theatre’s opening night debut of, “Mitzi’s Abortion: A Saint’s Guide to Late-Term Politics and Abortion in America,” at the Lowry Lab Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota. I felt truly privileged to be among the audience members who got to attend opening night. Both this play and Gadfly’s interpretation of it deserve to be enjoyed by a very broad audience. Given the diverse perspectives voiced in the play, “Mitzi’s Abortion” has something to offer nearly everyone.
The play, authored by Elizabeth Heffron, explores the struggle that the main character, Mitzi, faces when she discovers she is carrying a fetus with anencephaly. Babies born with anencephaly often are missing large parts of their brains and skulls. Virtually all die within days of birth. Given the incurable and fatal nature of anencephaly, the play to me seemed potentially more centered on the definitions of life and death, rather than solely on the issue of abortion. Although the term “brain death” is never used, the question “Is my fetus alive?” is a theme explored from many perspectives during the play. Interestingly, the Uniform Determination of Death Act and surrounding “right to die” controversies implicate many of these same debates about what defines life and death – and who decides. Audience members who have an interest in discussing these ethically controversial topics will also find many of the issues raised in “Mitzi” to be familiar and compelling.
At one crucial point during the play, Mitzi’s doctor tells her that her child, if born, would not be able to “see, feel, or hear,” – and would die almost immediately following birth. He refers to terminating her pregnancy as “inducing labor,” and gets angry when another character refers to the procedure of “inducing” as “late-term abortion.” The play also depicts Mitzi’s interactions with genetic counselors and researchers, which without giving away “spoilers,” can only be described as “controversial.” In many ways for me, the portrayal of the role that science and medicine play in helping Mitzi make her decision seemed just as provocative as the issue of late-term abortion itself.
The play, in addition to portraying the influence that science and medicine have on influencing Mitzi, actively explores the role that religion – in particular Catholicism – plays in helping her make her decision. The play features a gay Saint Thomas Aquinas as a major character who voices religious concerns present deep in Mitzi’s psyche. Offsetting St. Thomas’s religious reasoning is another moral voice in Mitzi’s psyche – “Reckless Mary,” – a Scottish midwife burned at the stake as a witch in the 1600’s. Lastly, the roles that Mitzi’s husband, family, and friends – many of whom are openly gay and bisexually self-identified – also feature heavily in the drama.
At one point in the play, when discussing with another friend how to advise Mitzi about her decision, Mitzi’s gay friend, Tim, raises the disability rights issues that accompany, “selective abortion.” As Tim says, “If a queer gene were discovered, how many parents would choose to abort their gay child?” Those audience members who have attended Gadfly’s other productions will recognize that the presence of “incidentally LGBTQ” characters – as well as the discussion of women’s health and autonomy – fits within Gadfly’s progressive queer and feminist mission.
This play, although incredibly emotionally heavy and difficult at times, also has many comedic moments to lighten the action. Reckless Mary in particular for me was a favorite character to lighten the mood. The chemistry between members of Gadfly’s talented theatrical troupe also makes for a dynamic and artistic performance.
I highly recommend going to see this play. Given the emotional and intellectual impact the play had on me (it actually made me change my position on how I feel about late-term abortion for reasons of fetal death and/or disability), I would recommend attending a performance that features a post-play discussion with the cast, if you can. Regardless of whether you can make a performance with a discussion, though, definitely still go and see the show. Whether or not you get to hear the perspectives of the cast, there’s almost no way not to discuss this play at length with others after you see it.
Gadfly’s production of Mitzi runs October 19-28 at the Lowry Lab Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota. Tickets are $12.00 for students and seniors and $15.00 for general admission. To reserve tickets, e-mail Gadfly at email@example.com and/or call (612) 607-3791. This show should not be missed.
Lauren Beach is a J.D./Ph.D. candidate at the University of Minnesota. (This review was originally written on October 20, 2012.)