The Fairhaven Summer Repertory Theatre kicked off its latest season on June 27th at the Firehouse Performing Arts Center with a provoking performance of Keely & Du, a drama with terrifying relevancy. Written in 1994 by Jane Martin and directed by Kayla Adams, the show is, at its core, an abortion play. With the recent over-turning of Roe v. Wade and the closure of abortion clinics across the country, Keely & Du presents a reality that feels a little too close for comfort.
Captured by an underground Christian anti-abortion organization, Keely (Eryn McVay), a victim of rape by her ex-husband, is told she must stay in this room for five months to ensure her baby is carried to term. However, she is not alone. Du (Trish Cosgrove), her assigned caretaker, sits by her side, and as they endure the passing days together, they develop a complex yet empathetic friendship. Keely & Du is a story of female bonds, who and what we can (or should) forgive, and a person’s right to choose.
Ultimately, the cast gave a strong first performance. With only ten days of rehearsal, I’m impressed by what these four actors can do in so little time. McVay’s panic-clutched, shaking body and tortured facial expressions revealed a rageful trauma boiling below the surface. Keely is young, blunt, and prone to making poor life choices, yet McVay plays her genuinely, not mockingly. Cosgrove was slightly more subdued than I would have liked, though I loved her monologue on how she and her husband found Jesus. The title implies that the show revolves around the two women’s relationship, yet Du’s lack of intensity made it feel more like the “Keely” show – though Du is grandmotherly with an eye for wit, I would have enjoyed seeing a tad more fire.
Adam St. John plays Walter, the pastor in charge of Keely’s confinement. Tender yet terrifying, Walter earnestly believes in his God and his cause, and I was disturbed by how convincingly St. John played this character. What the play does well, among other things, is give the anti-abortion side a voice. Walter’s speeches on the sanctity of an unborn baby’s life show us the logic behind this extremist’s thinking, even making us empathize with his very human desire to preserve life. Not to say the plays agrees with Walter – Keely is literally handcuffed to a bed – but it was nice to see the other side speak for itself, and then crumble under its own words.
If Cole (Kai Fischer) wasn’t such a screwed-up and deeply uncomfortable character, I almost wish he could have been given more stage-time. His powerful performance artfully built the tension to its climax, and what I saw in Fischer was raw, human, and compelling.
The setting of the play felt simultaneously foreign yet all too familiar. While being chained in a basement is a far cry from my typical life, the genericness of the setting and a Haggen’s grocery bag made it feel like it could all be happening next door. I prefer the intimacy of arena theaters, but my discomfort at seeing the action so close almost had me wishing for a proscenium. By sitting with Keely and Du, it almost feels like we too are complicit; that we, like Du, are keeping Keely chained up. However, despite the eeriness, I found this choice effective. We are supposed to be uncomfortable.
The script would be served well with a little trimming. I appreciated its slower pace, yet some scenes felt repetitive, and most monologues could have been cut down several lines. Similarly, though the frequent fading in and out of light cues helped depict the passage of time, it felt abrupt. Also, the playwright’s decision to have Du and Walter wear creepy face masks at the beginning of the show was puzzling – if the purpose was to conceal their identity, then why are they so blasé about taking them off? Though confusing, I did find it to be an effective clue to the audience: something clearly isn’t right here.
Despite these handful of script flaws, I recommend this show to many – but don’t bring the kids. Though there are trigger warnings on the website, they aren’t included in the program, so take heed of that here. I found the show to be moving, powerful, and sincere, and I expect it will become even more so as gains performances under its feet.
If you’re interested in the other Fairhaven Rep shows, I’ll post reviews for Gideon’s Knot tomorrow and for What the Constitution Means to Me on June 30th. Stay tuned!
Keely & Du by Jane Martin. Fairhaven Repertory Theatre, Firehouse Performing Arts Center, 1314 Harris Ave, Bellingham, WA 98225. Various dates June 27th – July 23rd, 7:30pm or Sun 5pm.
Info: https://www.bellinghamtheatreworks.org/current-season or (360) 209-5599. Lot and street parking available.