By Valerie Dunn
Elm Staff Writer
Even the slightest mention of abortion can set a conversation blazing into sensitive territory. Statistics and exaggerations swarm and often create a cloud of confusion around an already tricky matter. It was little wonder, then, when the audience of Tawes Theatre buzzed with conversation at the conclusion of Marta Wesenberg’s Senior Directing Thesis, “The Water Children” on Nov. 4th and 5th. The play, written by Wendy MacLeod, examines the issue of abortion from standpoints on each side of the debate. The audience did not hum with insult, however, but with emotional reaction from a superbly fair handling of a controversial script.
The play’s ability to present abortion in a manner based more on emotions than figures immediately attracted Wesenberg. “It stuck with me, she explained. “The play represented this idea without taking a side.”
When Megan, a struggling actress brought to life by junior Maegan Clearwood, lands a role in a commercial for a pro-life organization, Megan remembers the abortion she had when she was sixteen. In addition to her personal struggle, Megan faces the opinions of seemingly everyone in her life. Megan’s liberal roommate Liz (sophomore Katie Tabeling) criticizes Megan for taking the part. Randall (senior Will Malkus) is the head of the pro-life organization and tells Megan that abortion is wrong, but he also tells her that he loves her.
As Megan’s involvements with both the commercial and Randall progress, her views of abortion tend toward ambiguity. Though Megan does not regret the abortion of her youth, she decides to have a baby when she becomes pregnant with Randall’s child. The battling sides attack Megan, and it is only her mother that provides true understanding in the end.
The apt handling of abortion should not suggest that the play did not touch upon many sensitive issues. Dead baby jokes stirred bursts of uncomfortable laughter from the audience. The radical Tony Dinardi (sophomore Zach Weidner) displayed graphic images of abortion to a no longer laughing crowd. The spirit of the child Megan never had followed Megan around stage and wondered why he was never born.
Wesenberg understood the need to appreciate the opinions not only of her audience, but also her cast and crew. At the first read-through of the play, Wesenberg had her cast and crew discuss their feelings regarding abortion. Though she admitted to having been initially surprised by the variety of opinions, Wesenberg was not surprised that performers could put aside their personal views to create an impactful show together.
Wesenberg held rehearsals for the show last spring, and the preparation showed. Each of the eight cast members gave a powerful performance. As a unit, the cast reflected the awkward collisions of different-minded people that occur naturally in real life. Moreover, the honesty with which the performances painted the characters allowed the audience to forgive each character when necessary and to accept the decisions made.
“Abortion’s a very complicated issue,” Wesenberg said, “and it’s hard to know for sure.”
“The Water Children,” thankfully, did not demand a declaration of personal opinion. Nor did it wag a righteous finger in the faces of its audience. Instead, “The Water Children” provided a more emotional, human consideration of abortion.
Liam Dempsey, Hilary Leonard, Taylor Morton, and Tim Meren also appeared in “The Water Children.”