Misconceptions by Steve Wangh
Directed By Jessica Burr, Produced By Blessed Unrest
Review by Nicole Jesson
In January of 1941, Lady in the Dark by Moss Hart, Irving Berlin and Kurt Weill would come to Broadway. At that point, the US was not taking part in the War in Europe. Much of Weill’s catalog has a political intent, even if passed off as a fluffy musical with big production numbers. So there’s little doubt that The Saga of Jenny which states, “Jenny and her saga proves that you are gaga, if you don’t keep sitting on the fence,” was commentary on how ridiculous America’s stance was. Later that year, the Lend-Lease Act would be signed into law in March, but the US would not be drawn into war until December 7th by the attack on Pearl Harbor.
In 2022, America changed its mind on established law putting the health and well being of roughly half of her population in jeopardy, and taking from them bodily autonomy. The artists are speaking again.
Misconceptions is a play about abortion. In the 2022 Midterm Elections, abortion was the number one issue for voters. Abortion isn’t an issue people tend to waffle on. They are clearly on one side or the other – and if a politician appears to be on the fence, it is usually an attempt to not alienate a large group of voters. In the course of the play, the main character who discovers she is pregnant is on the fence – not in regards to morality – she just hasn’t made up her mind.
And so the audience begins this journey with Harriet (portrayed by Hilary Dennis). We travel through her life during a trip to NYC with her young daughter as she appears in Vogue and has her new exhibit opening at MoMA. We meet her ex-boyfriend, Jorge, (played by Sean Mana) who is also the father of her daughter, and the source of this new pregnancy. We experience her mother, (played Ethelyn Friend) through phone calls, voicemails and an emotional visit in celebration of her exhibit. By far the strongest voice in Harriet’s life is Darcelle (brought to life by Celli Pitt), her friend, manager and perhaps conscience. Julie Becker, Rich Brown and Perri Yaniv round out the ensemble playing a variety of characters including the Greek Chorus.
While Harriet makes it very clear to the audience in the beginning that this is a fiction though some of the people portrayed are real, we hear the playwright speak through her. When Harriet tells Jorge that he made his choices when he cheated and when he didn’t wear a condom, I felt like the playwright, Steve Wangh, wanted us to know that was where he felt mens’ decision-making ended on the subject. When Celli tells Harriet that she’s lucky because she’s a white woman with the means to fly to a blue state and have an abortion if she wants one, and that even lesbians can have unwanted pregnancies, the playwright is telling us some of the issues that exist, but have no bearing on his character and her decision making.
Harriet appears to have all the time in the world to come to a decision. She will not be rushed. She decides to interview people about abortion and turn it into art.
When you arrive in the theater, you will find the audience ¾ of the way around the stage. The setting reminded me of Urban Outfitters with outfits on hangers hanging on the wall, pairs of shoes scattered around, and empty picture frames left here and there. While some of those outfits will adorn the actors, some will join the Greek Chorus looming behind the audience. Sadly, once worn, many of the garments do not find their way back to the chorus and just litter the stage instead.
The staging begins with stylized movement defining the beginning of the journey Harriet is going on. While this fades to a more naturalized style over the course of the play, there is a particularly excellent “interview” with Perri Yaniv and Rich Brown which reminded me of the Open Theater’s The Serpent. The production is currently 120 minutes with a 10 minute intermission, but I really felt something was lost by cutting the work in 2 halves. I wanted to stay with the characters and the urgency of the situation which was somehow lost during the intermission.
Misconceptions is a play in need of an audience. I overheard one couple across the aisle, “I think I’m following this”. The production needs to learn and grow from the reaction it receives. “Is the intended message coming across?” And even, “has my message changed since starting this project?” “I love this moment but does it add to the whole?” I am glad to have seen Misconceptions in its infancy, and look forward to seeing what it becomes.
Making a decision about a pregnancy is urgent. A clock is set in motion which will end in 9 months if not sooner. A woman, especially depending upon where she lives, does not have a lot of time to make a decision. Harriet briefly hopes a miscarriage will take away her choice – make her passive in the process. Yes, Harriet is “lucky”, but how she has the time to perform at MoMA, have pending engagements and begin contacting and interviewing various people about abortion, either their experience or opinion, just feels like a longer project than . . . the time you have to make up your mind and act on the decision. I applaud the playwright’s ability to not make this a morality play, yet how after we take this journey, is there no decision? How is Harriet still on the fence when the play ends? Indecision, inaction becomes a choice. Perhaps, having no ending is a metaphor for us not having the right to decide for someone else.
122CC Theater | (Thu-Sun) through June 3 | https://blessedunrest.ticketleap.com/misconceptions.