With just a turn of her head, Alice Yorke brings you right into the abortion clinic now onstage at Lightning Rod Special’s The Appointment, part of the new High Pressure Fire Service festival at FringeArts.
Yorke, an ensemble member and the show’s lead artist, recites her character’s full name and birthdate over and over at clinic staff’s requests—as if she might somehow disappear, or become a different person, in the time it takes for the physician’s assistant to walk out and the doctor to walk in. A conspicuously affable assistant (Brenson Thomas, in one of many ensemble roles) takes her blood pressure, and she looks away from the cuff with a calm, benign absence. It’s instantly recognizable to anyone who’s ever offered a body part for a mildly uncomfortable test.
What do you see?
A little later, she turns her head again, but this time it’s at the doctor’s request, to look at an ultrasound screen imagined onstage. The doctor (ensemble member and lead writer Scott R. Sheppard) says she is required to describe what she sees on the ultrasound.
He’s also required to ask her if she wants to hear the heartbeat. No, she doesn’t. The ultrasound finishes, and she draws her medical gown back across her flat stomach.
Several of the scenes in The Appointment are drawn from Yorke and director Eva Steinmetz’s own visits to local abortion clinics, where they were able to observe women and practitioners for the whole process—including mandated counseling that I wish was satire.
Like many real-world American women, the characters of The Appointment have to listen to an apologetic doctor forced by law to tell them, among other things, that an abortion will put them at risk of depression, future infertility, and death (even though these risks are infinitesimal—and, of course, present for anyone who gives birth).
I’ve never been pregnant, but as a resident of Pennsylvania (where my state legislature stipulates that my ACA-marketplace health insurance does not cover abortion care), I know what it’s like to make a medical decision under the influence of nonsensical laws. After the 2017 inauguration, I got my first IUD—out of fear that other forms of birth control could soon become less accessible, and that if I did need an abortion, in a best-case scenario, I would pay hundreds out of pocket to medical providers outside my preferred healthcare team.
If you’ve never felt someone wrench one of your internal organs open from the outside, I don’t want to hear a word about how you’re okay with Republican lawmakers (most of them men) deciding what I can and can’t do with my own uterus—and what kind of healthcare I can and can’t access with the insurance that costs me thousands each year.
The Appointment’s genius doesn’t lie only in the compelling, matter-of-fact realism of its abortion-clinic scenes—but I don’t want to spoil the experience for anyone who doesn’t have tickets yet. Suffice it to say that a litter of embryos (costumed in flesh-toned body-suits and dangling umbilical cords by Jill Keys) embody a brilliant parody of what antiabortion activists claim to believe is inside a pregnant woman.
A workshop of this show first popped up at the Painted Bride in 2017, then titled Unformed Consent. That, along with 2017’s Sans Everything and 2015’s brilliant Underground Railroad Game, marked Lightning Rod Special as one of my favorite theater groups. The world premiere of The Appointment, with Katie Gould, Jaime Maseda, Lee Minora, and Brett Ashley Robinson rounding out the cast, does not disappoint.
Steinmetz (also credited as a lead writer) balances it all with scenes that turn on a dime, from surreal song-and-dance numbers (by turns hilarious and devastating, with music by Alex Bechtel, another lead writer) to deeply grounded verisimilitude. Scenic designer Oona Curley’s fast-moving curtains and furniture aid the perfectly choreographed transitions, alongside pitch-perfect ensemble work throughout.
“If I feel like crying, if I feel like laughing, I feel like I can’t without you thinking that you know the cause,” goes one of the songs. Women are somehow both at the center of America’s obsession with abortion and completely irrelevant to it. We’re infantilized and sexualized, glorified and stripped of agency. I hate to legitimize opposition to abortion access as a healthcare “debate.” The Appointment is not a debate. But it does confront, surprise, challenge, and entertain its audience.
If you can’t catch the show before it finishes its current FringeArts run on March 31, it’s already headed to New York as part of Next Door at NYTW, at the Fourth Street Theatre, from April 18 through May 4, 2019.
What, When, Where
The Appointment. By Lightning Rod Special, directed by Eva Steinmetz. Through March 31, 2019, at FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.
FringeArts is a wheelchair-accessible venue. For information on all accessibility features, visit here, call the box office, or email [email protected]. There is a private gender-neutral restroom available on the second floor.