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The A Word
by Rosemary Frisino Toohey

Dan Collins
August 11, 2008
The Baltimore Examiner
Copyright 2008

“The ‘A’ Word” hearkens back to the medieval morality play — theater being used to teach lessons about religion, education and key issues of the day. In this case, the issue is abortion, and playwright Rosemary Frisino Toohey sets out to address this subject through four vignettes, separated by time, race, age and culture.

Seema (Laura Savar) and Rajan (Praem J. Phulwani) are an attractive Indian couple living in Delhi. Seema has failed to conceive after six years and feels lacking in her wifely duty. Jenna (Lucia Diaz-French) is a 17-year-old, living alone with her mom (Ann Marie Feild), chaffing under the constraints of being a teenager. Wendy (Wendy Gaunt) and Brian (Lawrence Griffin) are an African-American couple living in 1970 America (three years before Roe v. Wade) at the beginning of a serious relationship. Traci (Lyndsay Webb) is excited about the news of her latest pregnancy, while husband Derek (Donnie Lewis), struggles to make ends meet on a repairman’s salary.

As the scenes shift from couple to couple (the transitions are a bit clunky; a stagehand was caught on stage as the lights came up, and one wonders how much difference a few altered pillows made), we begin to see the problems unfold. Seema conceives, but with a girl — a waste to Rajan, who sees his wife as a baby-boy-making machine.

When Jenna learns she’s pregnant, her mom envisions all the mistakes she made as a teen being revisited upon her daughter. For Wendy, a baby will ruin her chances of career advancement and Brian’s solution of marriage is way too soon. Traci finds her doctor’s request for an amniocentesis to be anything but good news.

The most riveting scene is when Wendy must make her case to a psychiatrist (Saul Clark-Braverman) to gain state approval for a “therapeutic abortion.” There’s an Orwellian, Winston-Smith-versus-O’Brien flavor to the interview. Wendy is forced to provide the exact details about her “feelings and rationality” for a “bunch of men in suits in a wood-paneled room.”

Toohey does a masterful job in exploring circumstances that bring the couples either to abort or bring their baby to term, revealing that in both cases, the parents are always left with physical, emotional and mental challenges to overcome.

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