“Mitzi’s Abortion” by playwright Elizabeth Heffron, put on by The Actor’s Workshop of Ithaca, offers a humorous and moving exploration of the ethics, religion and politics of late-term abortion.
Meet Mitzi (Dayna Joan), a 22-year-old with an army husband and a happy accident — a baby on the way. However, the news is quickly undermined by the discovery that the child will be born with a severe and fatal birth defect. Mitzi now faces the choice of whether to abort the baby or give birth to a child without a fully developed brain or skull.
Directed by C.A. Teitelbaum, the production dives into this controversial topic with humor, emotion and sincerity. The result is entertaining and touching — for the most part.
The scene where Mitzi finds she is pregnant is typical, as she pees on the stick and her boyfriend waits anxiously. When they find out she’s pregnant, Chuck shows off his best victory dance, but does not fully capture the genuine excitement of an expecting father. Rather, the scene seems forced and unrealistic.
Luckily, there are a few moments when the humor is refreshingly original. Mitzi’s friend Nita (Ria Burns-Wilder) brings some of these laughs, going on about the importance of Mitzi not giving up on her Esperanto class — a fairly useless international language — and an in-your-face political debate about why Medicaid covers the cost of Viagra but not birth control pills.
Joan does an amazing job bringing Mitzi to life, giving the audience a character with depth and honesty. She leads the audience through a whirlwind of uncertainty and joy and then evokes raw emotion with a powerful display of grief, guilt and disconnection.
Kristin Sad’s character of the outspoken southern mother, Vera, could have fallen flat as a stereotypical filler character. But she supports Mitzi with fierce, upbeat loyalty, reminding the audience that Mitzi’s abortion is not up to the church, political officials or insurance agencies — only Mitzi.
A few bizarre characters aid the originality of the production. “Reckless Mary,” (Deirdre Levine), a rosy-cheeked 16th century midwife back from the dead, prances around the stage with brandy bottle in hand, serving as comedic relief — if one can understand exactly what is being said through her thick, slurred Irish accent. Her opposition comes in the form of a tracksuit-wearing, calorie-craving saint, Thomas Aquinas, who presents the long-held beliefs of the Catholic Church with unexpected humor.
The props and costumes in the play are minimal but effective. The lighting is especially effective in the birthing room, where flickering fluorescents create tension on the stage. But the costume pieces that stand out the most are the ruby-sequined sneakers that are presented to Mitzi when she gets hit by the tornado of bad news. We’re not in Kansas anymore, the play suggests.
Advocates from Planned Parenthood, a sponsor of the production, stood outside the theater with information about abortion, and a manger at the Risley Theatre thanked the organization for its support. He reminded the audience that “Mitzi’s Abortion” could be a reality without groups like Planned Parenthood.
Religion and science, step aside. What “Mitzi’s Abortion” really gives us is the complicated range of emotions a women feels — or believes she should feel — when a pleasant surprise turns into a tragedy.
The social issue that the Actor’s Workshop of Ithaca’s Theatre examines is portrayed brilliantly. With intelligent humor, honesty and believable emotion consistent throughout, the production of “Mitzi’s Abortion” was an unexpected, pleasant surprise.