Sunday, February 26, 2006

Review of Arcadia University's production of "Keely and Du" 2-25-2006

This weekend I had the fantastic experience of seeing Arcadia University’s production of Jane Martin’s powerhouse of a play, Keely and Du. The curtain opens on a pair of orderlies, carrying in Keely, a young woman who they have abducted on her way to receive an abortion. After this initial event, the play transpires over a period of weeks, as Du, an elderly nurse, and Walter, a minister, engage Keely in a battle of wills and beliefs as they try and hold her hostage until the birth of her unborn child. The play is further complicated by the cause of Keely’s pregnancy—she is a victim of rape by her ex-husband—and rather than engendering greater sympathy for this from her captors, she is considered as a greater proof of the political rightness of their cause. By kidnapping Keely, they full intend to challenge the severest hypothetical justification for abortion.

Kat Schadt, playing Du, delivers the finest performance of the evening. The character is written to exhibit the Christian temperament of a saint, with all the attendant patience, humility, genuine concern, joyousness, and fidelity to God’s will that implies. As written, one could easily belittle the role as a cariacature, a Christian as a true-believer should be, without a touch of hypocrisy. But as Du, Schadt delivers all of these qualities, bringing the text to life with her mannerisms, bits of song, the melody of her voice and mild Southern drawl, and her movement across the stage. Her ever-present portrayal of piety and good-naturedness never gave me a moment to doubt the sincerity of all her actions, especially at the end of the play when Du must choose to sacrifice herself in obedience to God’s greater law, even though risking imprisonment in the process. This is a difficult role for any actress to perform convincingly, let alone for a college student—and only the youthful glow of Schadt’s face betrayed her performance of the character.

As Keely, the young abducted mother, Lydia Andrien all but matched the excellent performance given by Schadt. The role of Keely, while more suited for someone of college age, is as difficult to play, if not harder. For much of the first act, the play moves in short ellipses, rather than scenes, and Keely doesn’t even speak for the first handful of these. Then, much of her time is spent hysterically. Here Andrien breathes life into her character, never once devolving into histrionics. Her portrayal of Keely is solid in every respect—when commiserating with Du against the minister who holds her hostage, when breaking down our of anger, and most, when reacting in sheer genuine horror to the situation in which she has been placed. Moreover, as the play progressed, the relationship between Schadt and Andrien evolved in a manner that endeared the audience while justifying itself. This is both a credit to the actors and the play, as the relationship between the pro-life and pro-choice proponents results in a victory for neither side. Yes, Du does wind up in prison for kidnapping, but only because her humane devotion to Keely put her there.

As the minister Walter, Jason Grabowski fills out the role only in the manner in which the part is written. The lines he is forced to recite are cant and at times confusing, and Grabowski’s Walter comes off as mere filling—both in his portrayal and as a character. While he has opportunities to become more than a posterboard for the pro-life movement, Grabowski never embraces these, and as a consequence, he always appears either too flat, too staid, too adamant, or too quick to anger for too little reason. In short, he appears as a player on the stage, lacking nuance and subtlety, reading his lines, yet never matching the flesh and blood characterizations of the two leading women.

Beyond the two impressive leading women, there are memorable, almost devastating moments within the play. One occurs when Keely laments the deplorable excesses and lows of her young life, exclaiming finally her dream of withdraw to a world where she has to strain to hear anything. To this, the elder Du, unfazed by her own tragic experiences, replies in a haunting whisper, “but dear, that’s like dying,” and in a single expression, she underscores the life and death themes of the play. Later, in the final moments of the play, Keely visits Du, who, now in prison for kidnapping, refuses to speak with Keely—presumably because Du now serves a sentence in vain, as Keely terminated her pregnancy after all. In her final words, Schadt laments, “Why?” giving the simple question a much greater meaning, devastating the audience with a single word. Keely responds, her hands locking with Du’s, as she asks the same question in return. This single moment, written, and performed so well, qualifies the entire debate over abortion as a pair of opponents willing to do anything for their cause except avoid speaking past one another. The “why” goes unanswered, and becomes on the stage an angering, frustrating, and humiliating question.

I will give great credit to the direction displayed by Mark Wade in crafting this fine performance. From Keely’s first waking, the tension never disappears from the stage, and the quick pacing of the play kept me leaning forward in my chair the entire night. And while everything the actors did was believable to the point of expectation, (who didn’t know what she was going to do with that hanger?), Wade’s pacing never gave you enough time to prepare yourself for when it did. Everything unfolded neatly, making this one of the finer college productions I’ve seen in some time.

In the end, Keely and Du, makes you leave the theatre thinking about, if not rethinking, the very real moral issues surrounding the abortion question. The play gives one of the best premises in the theatre, a completely entrancing idea that could (philosophically) lead in a number of different directions. But I’m doubtful if the text by itself could prompt such re-examination in a way that this performance mandated from the audience. To that accomplishment, all the credit goes to these young performers at Arcadia.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Local Theatre I'm seeing

Feb. 4th: Production of "Die Fliedermaus" at Lehigh University's Zoellner Arts Center. Jan. 21st: Production of "Opus" at the Arden Theatre. See my review below. Jan. 28th: Production of "Evita" at the Wilmington Drama League. See my review below.