Sunday, October 29, 2023

"Fetal" at Frank Theatre

For their first show back from the pandemic, Frank Theatre is bringing us a world premiere new play written in reaction to the Supreme Court's 2022 decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. Fetal puts a personal face (four personal faces, actually) on this issue that has long been used as a political cudgel, with little regard to how decisions and laws affect actual humans. In just 80 minutes, we go through this journey with four fictional women who represent countless real women whose choices have been taken away from them in the last year and a half. And it's a smart, thoughtful, engaging, and inspiring play, just what I've come to expect from Frank Theatre. They're performing it in their intimate (read: tiny) studio space which means seating is very limited, so make your plans and get your tickets soon. Performances continue Thursdays through Sundays until November 19, and if you attend the Sunday matinee you also get to attend one of the best post-show discussions in town, in which experts on the topics discuss how the issues of the play affect us in real life.

The play takes place in the waiting room of a women's clinic in Texas that two days a week performs abortions, but only through the 7th week of pregnancy, per Texas law. The three women who are waiting to be processed and then taken in to see a doctor chat, bond, question, commiserate, and support each other. Each of the women has different reasons for needing an abortion. Lucy (Carolyn Pool) is a 47-year old working mother and wife who has had three miscarriages. Grad student Cass (Julia Valen) recently broke up with her girlfriend and had a fling with a man. Liv (Elena Yazzie) is a 15-year-old girl whose family, friends, and religion tell her that what she's doing is a sin. Volunteer Anne (Kate Beahen) leads each woman through her intake forms and presents the required information, but as each tells her story, she transforms into the devil on their shoulder, taking the opposite viewpoint and arguing against them. But we're reminded that this is June 24, 2022, and things take a turn that lead to a call to action for these women and for all of us.

Carolyn Pool, Elena Yazzie, Kate Beahen, and Julia Valen
(photo courtesy of Frank Theatre)
Former #TCTheater artist Trista Baldwin (now based in Seattle) has written a compelling play, with real dialogue between the women in the waiting room interspersed with heightened scenes of each woman's story as she argues with the voices in her head, or perhaps society. Frank's Artistic Director Wendy Knox directs the piece with clarity and precision, the lighting design helping to delineate the almost fantastical scenes from the more grounded ones. Each one of the actors gives such an authentic performance, up close and personal with nowhere to hide in the small space. They just are these characters, with no artifice, and make us feel for their struggles.

Frank's studio space in the Ivy Building in South Minneapolis has been transformed into a clinic waiting room with false walls and brick columns, filled with uncomfortable chairs, a water cooler, and magazine racks. It's so realistic it's almost immersive as you sit with these women in this space. They're dressed in modern clothing that's specific to each woman's character. The subtle sound design builds towards the end as we reach the climactic conclusion. (Set design by Rick Polenek, lighting design by Tony Stoeri, costume design by Kathy Kohl, sound design by Dan Dukich.)

Frank Theatre consistently does work that means something, while still being entertaining and engaging. I'm so glad they're back to bring their unique voice and style to the table, and they couldn't have picked a better play for their return than this extremely relevant, timely, and important play. Welcome back, Frank!