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As America votes, abortion rights take center stage at a DC theater

By on October 21, 2022 0

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Arena Stage’s “My Body No Choice” anime is a lengthy exploration of the multiple attacks and insults against women’s physical and mental well-being. But her unifying thesis is simple and straightforward: Leave decisions about their bodies to the women themselves.

Consisting of eight short and original monologues delivered by eight highly skilled actresses, the evening probably does not reach the level of awareness for much of the audience of Arena’s Kogod Cradle. Edited by Molly Smith, it is rather a reaffirmation by personal confession of what should not be stated. And yet, we can never repeat it enough.

In “Battered Baby”, for example, by V – formerly known as Eve Ensler, author of “The Vagina Monologues” – a young woman (Dani Stoller) recounts how a childhood of beatings and abuse left her deprived of his sense of self. “When did my body stop being mine and become a field of violence and disgrace?” she asks. In Fatima Dyfan’s “A Rest Stop,” an adventurous free spirit (Deidre Staples) recounts her navigation of her sexual awakening and her triumphant efforts to avoid getting pregnant. And in Lee Cataluna’s “Things My Mother Told Me,” an elderly woman (Toni Rae Salmi) reflects on her mother’s surprising decision to stop her doctor-recommended chemotherapy.

The choice is irrelevant, the girl reports in Cataluna’s touching skit, because “her mind has been trained to obey”.

How a DC theater is advocating for abortion rights

These are some of the most engaging speeches, all delivered simply against a backdrop set up like a literary salon, with a warm semi-circle of comfy sofas, chairs and table lamps, set behind a large Persian rug. The storytellers take center stage in no particular order, except for the final contributor, a passionate young woman played by Tori Gomez who, in Lisa Loomer’s “Roxy,” finds in her rage over the Supreme Court’s decision the United States reversal of Roe vs. Wade his own militant voice.

It was Smith’s own outrage that generated “My Body No Choice,” which is the last show she’s leading as Arena’s longtime artistic director. a position she will leave next summer. It’s an appropriate swan song for Smith, who in a quarter century at Arena has often incorporated politics and social issues into company programming. His Power Plays initiative, launched six years ago with the goal of commissioning 25 new works, one for each decade of American history, will be seen as a cornerstone of his tenure.

“My Body No Choice” is particularly focused on Smith’s mission. Perhaps the most important statement of the evening is not the monologues themselves, but the reaffirmation that the country’s major regional theaters provide a safe space for women who feel threatened. Production has been scheduled for voting season: the Arena race ends Nov. 6, two days before the midterm elections, and the company says 20 other theaters and universities across the United States are producing their own readings of the scripts. .

The eight authors interpreted Smith’s request for articles on bodily autonomy broadly; contributors include the widely produced Sarah Ruhl and acclaimed solo artist Dael Orlandersmith. In “An Uplifting High School Graduation Speech,” performed by Jennifer Mendenhall, Ruhl creates an impassioned speech on behalf of abortion rights that unnerves a Catholic school. And in “Gravitas,” Orlandersmith offers actress Felicia P. Fields a deeply personal account of body shaming.

Shanara Gabrielle syncs vibrantly with the mission given to her: “Chance” by Mary Hall Surface, a tale that unfolds around the miscarriage of a middle-aged woman. Stoller brings a prickly recklessness to “Battered Baby” that helps us understand the resilience of his troubled character; Staples is giving an infectious boost to Dyfan’s coming-of-age account. And Joy Jones features prominently in “The Circumstances of My Birth,” about an accomplished woman who came into the world unwanted. (The author in this case chose to remain anonymous.)

“My Body No Choice” does not innovate so much as it claims ground, for those who watch with anguish this difficult moment in the history of the right to abortion. The battle, it seems, is endless. Perhaps this evening is best suited to the rising generations who will be called upon to take up the fight again.

My body has no choice, monologues by eight playwrights. Designed and produced by Molly Smith. Lighting, Catherine Girardi; sound, Megumi Katayama. About 80 mins. Through Nov. 6 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. 202-488-3300. arenastage.org.