When Abortion Comes to the Fore Onstage
There are topics we tend to shy from in drama as in life, and abortion is one of them.
The death of Bea Arthur, a little over a week ago, reminded us that this is now -- but wasn't always -- the case with TV series. More than 35 years ago, Arthur's iconic character, Maude Findlay, had "prime time's first abortion, in a two-part episode that aired two months before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal across the country," as Rebecca Traister wrote in Salon. Like mainstream movies, TV prefers not to tell stories like that anymore.
Theater seldom bluntly deals with the issue of abortion, either, even peripherally -- which is odd, when you consider both the strong emotions it incites and how common it is. Or maybe that's not so peculiar, given how seldom women wield the pen that writes the script.
Its scarcity onstage makes all the more striking the fact that two current off-Broadway plays do deal with abortion, their approaches to the topic as unalike as the shows themselves: "Ruined," Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about war and sexual violence in the Congo, and "Everyday Rapture," Sherie Rene Scott's bubbly, autobiographical musical, which she wrote with Dick Scanlan.
Abortion comes only briefly to the fore in each play, a bit ambiguously in one, unequivocally in the other, breath-catchingly in both, and for very different reasons. Both moments left me blinking back tears.
To say much more than that about them would be a disservice to audiences, who deserve to be surprised.
But audiences deserve, too, to have the fullness of human experience examined honestly onstage. A person doesn't have to be on a particular side of the abortion debate to recognize that abortion is a fact of life, and one that theater would do better to acknowledge.