Sunday, December 1, 2013

THE ARGUMENT at Theater J: The Reaction

Any time the word "abortion" comes up there are bound to be strong opinions. This word has as much a political and social stigma attached to it than any other I can think of. Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros' play The Argument, first performed in 2005, was rewritten to suit modern audiences for a new production at Washington D.C.'s Theater J this fall. The Argument is, according to director Shirley Shirotsky, a play about abortion, but not about the political debate about abortion. Even so, this does not eliminate the elephant in the room.

The Argument is the story of a 40-somethings couple, Sophie and Phillip, who after falling for each other quickly and a period of a very happy relationship, get a surprise when Sophie finds out she is pregnant. Both characters have very different ideas of how to deal with this news and serving as the dramatic conflict for the play. The Washington Post's Nelson Pressley puts it well, saying "'The Argument' watches two supposedly mature people...claw each other to bits."

The play was updated since its 2005 premiere to better suit today's audience. While there were small changes, such as lines cut and added and the ability to relook at the characters, the rewrite also allowed Gersten-Vassilaros to update the technology in the play and change the economic background of the play, following the economic decline of the past few years.

In a review for The Washingtonian, Missy Frederick wrote that the play was "about the personal consequences [of abortion] for two characters and their relationship, rather than the ideological stances behind the debate...the result is a lot more interesting than a political polemic, even if the play’s conclusion is less than satisfying."

Audiences responded well to this personal approach to this often-discussed issue. The energy in the theatre after I saw the show was of a group of people that enjoyed what they saw and wasn't upset or emotional about a controversial subject that was discussed for the previous 90 minutes. Responses online were much more about the characters and the well-produced play than the hot-button issue at hand.
For Serotsky, the play "centers on the word choice, and resonates in various ways in the play. The first thing we think of in terms of abortion is politics of the pro-choice movement. But it's what it means to choose to either end the pregnancy or to choose to start a family. In Sophie’s life, we see her struggle with what has she chosen to do and what she has chosen not to do. We think we can do everything and say no to nothing. This builds an unrealistic view of our life."

Serotsky said that this play was a challenge because "it's such a personal play and requires actors to go to very dark and personal places." 

Since the show opened, Serotsky has had "a lot of interesting conversations" with audience members about their reactions to the show. These reactions were all over the spectrum, which is not surprising considering the subject matter. Overall, the play was "divisive, but people didn’t regret it."

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