An IV lingers in the corner. A cross looms on an unfinished wall. A chain hangs from a hospital bed. We hear the sound (Sound Design: Averi Paulsen) of women chanting in protest, “My body! My Choice!” as well as condescending men who explain why they aren’t entitled to them. It sounds like an old recording, but the content feels (unfortunately) relevant. It feels like today, and as the play’s program states, it is today. We are in present day Rhode Island, underground, in a strange, unsettling world—the world of Jane Martin’s Keely & Du directed by Ted Hoerl.
Indeed, we are trapped with Keely (Keisha Champagne), a pregnant victim of rape, in a room with a pro-life activist nurse, Du (Jacqueline Grandt). Kidnapped from outside of an abortion clinic by a pro-life Christian activist group, Keely is forced to see her pregnancy through in a makeshift underground hospital. As the unwanted baby grows inside of Keely, Du and Keely reveal the decisions they made that led to their situations at the beginning of the play. After hearing one another’s impassioned stories, their empathy for one another becomes palpable despite their distinctly different points of view.
In this intimate space of approximately 40 seats, we are surrounded by the same warehouse walls (Set Design: Alyssa Mohn) as Keely and the other cast members, furthering the ominous feeling of incarceration Martin’s play introduces. The lighting (Lighting Design: Cat Davis) is artificial, echoing both the artificial hospital as well as the artificial altruism the pro-life extremist group claims to represent.
Though Keely & Du isn’t necessarily about abortion --it’s about the complex relationships in the play which surround it-- it certainly is triggering. For this viewer, who has had close friends who were victims of sexual assault, it was at times exceedingly difficult to watch, and yet, surprisingly cathartic. However, something that makes this production (and those painful scenes) so worthwhile is Champagne’s portrayal as Keely: not a victim, but a fighter. She fights her captors at every step of the way, owns her past, and ultimately (SPOILER ALERT!!) creates her own future.
Though the play does take a clear and firm pro-choice stance, Grandt’s ever-energized take on Du wins us over. Pro-choice though you may be, like this writer, you too will likely find Du to be shockingly likable. For any pro-lifers who may consider seeing the show, expect to also consider it a valuable use of your time. Martin’s script engages with both sides of the argument in an intelligent—though heightened—manner. This rich script has so many powerful moments, such as when Du reveals the gender of one of her children, that some, like this reviewer, might have preferred a production that afforded more time with which to linger with this script, allowing it to catch its breath.
That said, overall Keely & Du is timely, terrifyingly real, and well-executed. For audience members who find shows like The Handmaid’s Tale empowering, this is especially for you.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Keisha Champagne (Keely), Jacqueline Grandt (Du), Joe Metcalfe (Cole), Ben Veatch (Walter);
Understudies: Tim Ashby (U/S Cole), John Bussan (U/S Walter), Jacqui Jaurena (u/s Keely), Suzy Krueckeberg (U/S Du)
Ted Hoerl (Director), Zeenah Hussein (Stage Manager), Zachary Crewse (Production Manager), Alyssa Mohn (Set Designer/Scenic Charge), Willow Rakoncay (Properties Designer), Cat Davis (Lighting Designer), Rachel Sypniewski (Costume Designer), Averi Paulsen (Sound Designer), Ari Craven (Graphic Designer), Alexis Black (Resident Fight/Intimacy Director), Julia Skeggs (Resident Casting Director), Eunice Dye (ASM/Wardrobe Supervisor), Noe Jara (Technical Director), E. Malcolm Martinez (Box Office Manager), Johnny Garcia (Box Office Associate), Charlie Marie McGrath (Producing Artistic Director)
Thru Nov 10, 2019
1044 W Bryn Mawr,
2 blks W of LSD,
2 blks E of the Red Line EL station
About the Author:
Lauren Lynch is a Chicago-based theatremaker by night and education administrator by day. She has undergraduate degrees in Theatre and English from Austin Peay State University and an MFA in Arts Administration from Texas Tech University. When she's not at work or seeing/creating theatre, you can find her enthusiastically playing board games with friends or stealing cuddles from her dog, Harry Pupper.