Jeannine's Abortion: A Play in One Trimester
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 25, 2010
I get asked, all the time, "What have you seen lately that's great...that I need to see?"
The good news tonight is, I've just seen such a play: Jeannine's Abortion: A Play in One Trimester, by Eric Bland, is extraordinary. It's very funny and, like the best art, therefore also just one step away from being very sad. It's a portrait of a makeshift "family" of twentysomethings in Brooklyn who are grasping at happiness and sometimes succeeding in finding it, but their rootlessness (as my companion so perceptively identified it) keeps pulling them back, inward, away.
The bad news is that, as the final presentation of the Brick's Too Soon Festival, it only has two more performances; this one really is going to get away too soon, that is unless and until some producer who cares as much about art as money snatches it up and lets it have the breathing room of a long run that it clearly deserves.
Don't wait for that; if you're free this weekend, check out Jeannine's Abortion. (And if you're the producer I just described, that goes double for you.)
Bland introduces us to seven characters who feel achingly real and, as portrayed by a sterling cast under the expert direction of Hope Cartelli, immediately likeable and sympathetic. There's Morgan, who seems to spend most of her time reading about upcoming movies and events at MoMA that she will never attend. There's Emily, who Morgan loves and who may love Morgan; she almost always seems to be lying down, nursing a sickness she can't clearly identify. There's Lindsay and Daniel, a couple who clearly belong together; we never actually find out much else about them except their symbiosis, though this short snippet of one of Daniel's speeches in the play—one that gives you a good idea of what to expect in this play, by the way—suggests that he is some kind of struggling artist:
...I wanna put something in the MoMA. You know? I feel like there's enough crap in there that no one would notice if my thing sucked. And it would be such little skin off their backs but it would mean, everything, to me.
There's Sarah, who is in China (and it wasn't until it was explained in the very last scene that I realized I didn't have any idea why she's there). There's Jeff, who gives new meaning to words like hangdog, hapless, and loser. And there's Jeannine, who is indeed planning to have an abortion, and this—reflecting the way life actually operates, which is Bland's genius—is at once entirely beside the point and entirely central to everything that happens in the play.
So much ground is covered here! Not just Bland's trademark preoccupations like art films and dissecting pop culture and the weird balance between love and envy, but fundamental and surprising things, many slyly connected with the notion of an abortion, such as ownership and treatment of one's body, choice, and life and death. It's smart writing because it considers so many ideas but arrives at almost no firm conclusions; it makes us laugh and ponder and feel superior and feel frightened and sometimes catches us breathless in a place and manner we don't expect.
I need to mention the ensemble: Morgan Anne Zipf, Emily Perkins, Daniel Kublick, Lindsay Carter, Siobhan Doherty, Sarah Engelke, and Jeff Lewonczyk all portray characters sharing their own first names (except Doherty, who plays Jeannine), and they are all terrific. They create fully-fleshed-out individuals and—one imagines Cartelli has something to do with this next bit—they are a completely convincing circle of close, mostly longtime friends. You feel the strong bonds even as you know they're not always listening to one another.
So, that's enough from me tonight. I hope you will get a chance to see this truly lovely new play at the Brick, and that there will be many more chances after the Too Soon Festival shuts down for many more people to see it, because this is one piece of theatre that really deserves a life as full and authentic as the ones it depicts.