"The Water Children," by Wendy MacLeod, now running at the Veterans Memorial Theatre, is a controversial show which deals with the volatile subject of abortion.
To prepare for the show, the cast of Acme Theatre Company began meeting with Director Dave Burmester for weekly dinners several months before rehearsals began to discuss the play and the issue of abortion. The director told his cast that he didn't care where they stood on the issue, but he wanted each of them to have a position that his or her character supported, so that they could effectively portray that character.
Members from the Davis Crisis Pregnancy Center met with the cast. (Planned Parenthood was also invited to participate, but did not follow through.)
The preparatory work and the direction--and perhaps the sense of urgency which resulted from Burmester's untimely surgery--have blended together to produce a very strong production.
The plot concerns Megan (Shakti Howeth), an out of work actress who is offered a role in an anti-abortion commercial. Because she herself had an abortion at age 16 and is pro-choice, she initially refuses the job, until she discovers it will pay well, and she needs the money. Howeth gives a brilliant performance, and is on stage almost the entire show (save for some very quick costume changes).
As she begins to work on the commercial, Megan finds herself attracted to the head of the group, Randall (a solid performance by Nick Herbert) and enters into a relationship with him. She begins to question her teen-aged decision. In a series of fantasy scenes, she imagines what her son would have been like at various ages. James Henderson is perfect as Chance, a whiney young child, growing into a know-it-all college student, and acting as the voice of calm in Megan's ambivalence regarding her actions.
Megan's feminist roommate Liz (a powerful interpretation by Jill Winternitz) is vocal in her anger at Megan's involvement with the group and in her dislike of Randall.
"There are a lot of stereotypes in this show," says Burmester, "but the cast gives them depth." Indeed this is a marvelous ensemble show where each of the characters comes to life as believable human beings.
Martin Dubcovscky is Toni Dinardi, the rabid anti-abortion gun nut, undoubtedly modeled on murderer John Salvi. His performance gives just that uncomfortable sense that leaves the audience on edge, wondering if he will go over the brink or not.
Katie German is Crystal, who claims to have started life as an aborted fetus rescued from a garbage pail by a sympathetic nurse, and who is now staunchly pro-life. Crystal is militantly perky. German also plays a waitress and gives an extraordinary portrayal of a cat.
Krystal White is Megan's agent, Kit, and also a waitress. In addition, she gives a sympatetic performance as Megan's mother .
Andrew Conrad is wonderfully fey as Rodger, the hairdresser, and also plays a snooty TV director, Chance's father and a Buddhist priest.
Despite its serious theme there is a lot of humor in this play and at its conclusion, Megan is faced with blending her feelings and her experiences and attemtping to reconcile her past with her present in order to make life-altering decisions.
The play makes no final moral judgement, but leaves it up to each member of the audience to assess their own feelings on the subject.
The set design by Josh Nielsen is beautifully simple and works extraordinarily well, especially in the final scene.
Special kudos to Lighting Designer Tiffany Lynn Michael, who has created a design which beautifully separates fantasy from reality.
Stage Manager Karlee Finch is credited with sound design and has done a perfect job of selecting the background music for the various scenes.
After the curtain call, there is a q&a between the cast and the audience. The effect of the script on the young actors became blatantly obvious as they explained how their feelings about abortion, and about safe sexual practices had been strongly altered by becoming enmeshed in the actions of the characters and in the story itself.
In this day and age, if there is any more rewarding pay-off of presenting a play like "The Water Childen," I can't think of it.