The Choice, from Philly-based women’s theater collective inFLUX, takes us to “the womb where it happens” for this year’s Fringe—or the womb where it doesn’t happen, as the case may be.
Pig Iron MFA alums Jacqueline Libby, Christine Octavia Shaw, and Jacinta Yelland inhabit Lisi Stoessel's set, a complex assemblage of furniture and props. A mattress and tables, dolls, a baby carriage, yoga balls, boxes of diapers, a plastic potty, plush and inflatable animals— it's like the garage sale of a family who chose kids and finally came out on the other side.
Yes or no?
For people like Yelland, who shares in a frank, funny, and inviting opener that she’s 35 years old, the choice about having children becomes more urgent (a fact perhaps echoed by a few clocks scattered throughout the set). Shaw shares her dream of having three children, even if it means leaving her beloved theater career and becoming a nurse so she can support them. And Libby, who later describes the things that can happen to the pregnant body, complete with graphic visual aids of stretch marks and secretions, is “not even thinking about it.”
Yelland enlists the audience, who points at two neon “yes” or “no” signs suspended at either side of the stage, to demonstrate their opinion of whether or not she should get pregnant (a solitary man in the front row on opening night pointed emphatically to “yes” throughout the performance).
Yelland shares more and more about her life with the audience—does her age, marital status, income, or career (or her partner’s) determine the choice? She also invites the audience to share reasons not to reproduce and the answers come thick and fast, from “gender inequality” and “global climate disaster” to “sleep.”
More than the choice itself, inFLUX's show spotlights the way decisions about childbearing are at once intensely personal and bound up with the social, cultural, economic, and environmental pressures and necessities that people who can become pregnant carry. An incisive moment asks whether people dread the physical effects of pregnancy and birth simply because “everyone has told you that saggy tits are unacceptable.” Is it possible to experience bodily autonomy when your body is already under the thumb of patriarchal desirability politics, no matter what you decide to do?
The first chapter
Director Sarah Sanford distills a compelling mix of performance styles rarely seen in one show: audience participation, improv, slapstick, sketch, monologue, dance ranging from burlesque to aerobics, and strange but stirring movement sequences. True to the Pig Iron oeuvre, the inFLUX artists push physical as well as thematic boundaries. The show doesn’t always cohere, but neither do the choices of parenthood.
While the US waits to see how far beyond Texas draconian abortion laws will spread, it’s painful to remember that many American lawmakers don’t think childbearing should be a choice at all—while they also refuse to enact policies to keep children healthy, safe, housed, and fed. And we can’t forget that reproductive choice for queer, trans, or disabled people, as well as people of color, comes with a host of additional quandaries that white, cis, able-bodied people do not face. It would be exciting to see future theatrical perspectives that explore these issues.
The Choice is the first installment of The Motherhood Project, a promised decade-long performance series by Libby, Shaw, and Yelland in which they’ll present five new theater works examining their “evolving relationship to motherhood.” No doubt the productions will continue to be relevant to people choosing whether or not to become parents—or having the choice made for them.
What, When, Where
The Choice. By inFLUX Theatre Collective, directed by Sarah Sanford. $20. Through September 18, 2021 at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 40 N. American Street, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.
Proof of Covid vaccination is required, and masks must be worn inside the building. Seating is not distanced.
Christ Church Neighborhood House is a wheelchair-accessible venue, but the cobbles on the surrounding streets can be difficult to navigate for those with limited mobility.
No audience member will be turned away for lack of funds. For more info, email [email protected].