Monday, November 6, 2023

Frank's "Fetal" digs into reproductive rights

Photo by Tony Nelson
Frank Theatre, after a three-plus year gap, has returned with a searing look at America’s crumbling reproductive rights and health care system.
Fetal, a world premiere by Trista Baldwin, takes us to a Houston-area clinic on June 24, 2022 – the day the Supreme Court ended federally mandated abortion rights in the United States. For the women – three there for the procedure, and an aide to help them through the process – even the difficult-to-jump-through hoops for an abortion may quickly be gone.

While the characters are there for the same thing, their journeys are all different. Cass is in Texas for grad school, who has been through unwanted pregnancies before. Lucy is nearing 50, has a daughter and a history of miscarriages. Liv is a teenager from an ultra-conservative family who desperately needs her family to not find about the pregnancy.

The are aided by Anne, who volunteers at the clinic for her own reasons. These varied characters allow Baldwin to dig into the reasons why they have chosen to have the abortions. Anne also serves as an in-the-mind foil for each of them; giving voice to the self doubt that each feels on this morning.

Fetal doesn’t just interrogate reproductive rights, but the whole experience of pregnancy, childbirth, and the after effects in America. (Long story short: it’s pretty terrible; abortion rights aren’t the only crumbling part of our health care system.) The physical highs (love making) and lows (the rest) also get a hearing. Baldwin uses these moments to give extra texture and to deepen the characters.

The capable cast gives the characters form. Elena Yazzie (as Liv), Julia Valen (as Cass), and Kate Beahen (Anne) all give superb performances, but Carolyn Pool’s Lucy is sublime and is the glue that holds the show together.

Pool inhabits every atom of the character, who is older and somewhat wiser than the others, and who also has some of the most harrowing experiences, especially in her experiences when she returned to work after giving birth to her daughter. It's a topic that could quickly be reduced to slogans, but Baldwin, the cast, and director Wendy Knox avoid that. 

Oh, it’s an angry play about what has already proven to be a dark day in U.S. history, but by grounding it in the reality of these four women, that makes this rage real.

Fetal is being presented in the tight confines of Franks’ studio space, so seating is very limited (40 per performance). Masks are required. Post-show discussions are held after Sunday performances. Visit online for additional details.

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