In Keely and Du, a basement becomes an abortion-rights battleground | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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In Keely and Du, a basement becomes an abortion-rights battleground

A pregnant woman seeking an abortion and her Christian captor face off in Jane Martin's still-relevant 1993 play.


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The pseudonymous Jane Martin (long rumored to be director Jon Jory or a collaboration between Jory and his playwright spouse, Marcia Dixcy), first birthed Keely and Du in the early years of the first Bill Clinton administration, when the culture wars were at a fever pitch (unlike every other time in U.S. history, I guess). But much like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, current grim events conspire to make this play about a pregnant rape victim held captive by Christian extremists to prevent her obtaining an abortion feel relevant all over again. Unfortunately, relevance and believability aren't always the same thing.

Ted Hoerl's staging in Redtwist's tiny black box features compelling performances from Keisha Champagne as Keely, impregnated by her violent ex-husband and now chained to a bed under the watchful eye of Du (Jacqueline Grandt), a foot soldier in the abortion wars who obeys the preening patriarchal Walter (Ben Veatch). Du is a registered nurse, which makes her willingness to risk blood clots by leaving Keely shackled and immobile day after day a little hard to swallow. (Even if she's primarily a vessel, a dead vessel won't be much use for these fetus fetishists.)

This is a play designed to make you angry (though living under patriarchy generally takes care of that for a lot of us on a daily basis). Martin's script is particularly good at nailing how centering the possibility of redemption for men betrays the safety and autonomy of women. But eventually, the claustrophobic walls of Alyssa Mohn's grim basement set echo once too often with talking points that we've all heard many times before and that haven't moved anyone closer to changing their minds on this depressingly evergreen cultural conflict.  v

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