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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Water Children

Published: March 24, 2006
Section: Arts, Etc.

Last weekend, Michael Carnow 07 made his second mainstage UTC effort as a director with Wendy McLeods The Water Children, a play tackling the incredibly sensitive issue of abortion. Many audience members were surely a little on edge thanks to the explosive issue that dominates the play, but strong performances and impressively even-handed writing helped make this a top-quality UTC production, quite possibly the best undergraduate theatrical effort since Fool for Love five months ago.

Water Children centers on Megan, an actress in her mid thirties who is being forced to come to terms with the fact that she is no longer an ingnue female lead. She accepts an offer to do a well-paying commercial for a pro-life organization called Life Force, to the annoyance of her rampantly left-wing roommate Liz. After meeting Randall, the cool, compassionate head of Life Force, Megan is forced to confront her lingering guilt over an abortion she had twenty years earlier, Randalls compassionate perspective on the issue, and where her true feelings lie. She enters a romantic relationship with Randall, which turns her life back upside down when she becomes pregnant again, begins losing the respect of Liz, and Randall begins losing control of some of his less stable volunteers at Life force.

The play is Megans story, and Kaitlin Kerr handles the role admirably. As the characters around her enact facets of the conflicts she is facing internally, she thoughtfully works her way through the conclusion until she can understand herself. The hinge of the show may be her chemistry with Alex Toplanskys Randall, which I thought was very palpable in many of their scenes together. Toplansky nails his characters sense of humor and gives wonderful, warm delivery to the most moderate ideas about abortion in the play. His revelation as a hypocrite in a moment of crisis is not much of a surprise, but the plot is not the focus of the play;

exploration of the issue at hand is a higher priority. One of the fascinating aspects of the show is the character Chance (Harley Yanoff), the spirit of Megans aborted child. Yanoffs simple delivery in his monologues resenting or accepting Megans choice carries the text and its power perfectly.

Erika Geller (as Liz, Megans roommate), Alex Martynov (Tony Dinardi, a Life Force volunteer) and Robin Farber (Crystal, another Life Force volunteer) all faced the challenge of making characters with firmly-entrenched views on abortion neither caricatures nor human beings defined solely by their stances on a single issue. Martynovs naturally intimidating figure was utilized to near perfection for the mentally-unstable Tony. Working from that basis, he certainly handled his role well, and was truly impressive in his final scene. I found Gellers Liz and her constant stream of politically-liberal intolerance extremely grating, but that is the necessity of the roleit allows for the dramatization of Megans inner struggle with her liberal ideals, her relationship with Randall, and her guilt about her first abortion. Farbers sunny but ditzy and firmly-entrenched Crystal allows a similar contrast to form with Megans open-minded intelligence.

In an array of small, comic characters, David Pepose offers what may be his finest performance since Arcadia. His gruff performance as Dad was good for a laugh almost every line, helping draw the audience in after a slow start, and his scene as a flamboyant hairdresser was also highly amusing. Jen Goldberg played a similar but less comic group of characters, including the evenings most bizarre and strangely enthralling scene, in which she played Megans cat and lamented the pain of having her kittens taken away. Her scenes as Megans sympathetic mother were also classy performances.

Certainly, the play was not without flaws. The lighting was of uneven quality;

on one hand, the use of the cyc and gels to lend mood to scenes was wonderfully effective, but the general lighting often left the actors with badly shadowed faces. The opening few scenes of the play simply werent particularly engaging. Peposes comic scene as a gruff father figure and the entrance of Randall gave the play the comic boost and honest dialogue it needed to get the action moving. And it is a severe stretch to say that McLeods skill as a playwright features her plotsmany of the plot twists, including Megans new pregnancy and Randalls ultimate failure, were so heavily foreshadowed that they hardly shocked the audience.

So, those of you who missed out on this fine production may wonder what stance the play ultimately takes on abortion. In the end, a pregnant Megan is in Japan for a commercial shoot and goes to a Mizuko shrine, where she is familiarized with the system of beliefs. Sometimes, a woman is unable to welcome a child to the world and must send it back. At the same time, it is accepted that the child does have a soul, with which its would-be mother can commune in these shrines. Megan speaks to Chance, who easily forgives her for sending him back the first time, then decides she will keep her new child, asking her mom to move to New York to help her raise it. On the one hand, the right to choice is affirmed, even by the one who would have been born;

on the other, the life of the soul of the unborn is also affirmed and Megan ultimately does choose to keep her new baby. A very even conclusion to a very even examination of a hot issue. McLeod deserves much praise for writing such a wonderful piece, and Carnow and his cast and crew should give themselves a pat on the back for a well-done piece of theatre.