HerStory at Idle Muse
The Idle Muse Theatre Company production of Paula Kamen’s Jane: Abortion and the Underground ,now open at the Edge Off Broadway, is a retelling of an overlooked piece of feminist history. It captures the oral history of The Jane Collective, officially named Abortion Counseling Service of Women's Liberation, an underground network of abortion providers that operated out of Hyde Park from 1969 to 1973 when the Supreme Court finally made abortion legal and a decision between a woman and her doctor.
The play, with fictionalized scenes between verbatim monologues, traces Jane from the initial impulse when civil rights activist Heather Booth utilized her activist contacts (she had helped organize Chicago’s Freedom Schools and participated in the Freedom Summer and was married to SDS founder Paul Booth) to obtain an abortion for a student. She immediately recognized the intersection of feminism with civil rights, and saw abortion law as an unjust law, and sought to help women despite this law. She would eventually transfer the organizing and running of the network to Ruth Surgal and Jody Parsons. They continued to develop the network and organization, which ultimately evolved into a female operated DIY health service which was eventually raided by the police after being tipped off by enraged Catholic family members of a patient. Some of the practitioners arrested and The Abortion 7 were to stand trial: all charges were dropped when the Supreme Court issued the Roe v Wade decision. There is a short epilogue that treads lightly on our own dysfunctional and unjust situation.
The structure of the play is expository, with each character telling their facts. The tension we audience members feel comes from the shock of knowing this is what we are coming back to with the Dobbs decision now overturning Roe. Context becomes a hidden plot point. There was also an anxiety that comes from knowing that the opposition to abortion is now exponentially more violent, punitive and has tracking technology: the Jane is not possible in Texas now, when your neighbor or your menstrual app can turn you in. These women were heroes in their time and their stories call each of us to action.
This is not a play for the squeamish: there are simulated medical procedures on stage and some fairly graphic descriptions of abortions. It traces a history we all need to study. The ensemble works hard to bring these people to life, from Joel Thompson’s portrayal of the Rockefeller Chapel pastor the Reverend Parsons, a pivotal figure in organizing, to the money hungry and somewhat callous and overworked Dr. C played by Troy Schaeflein. Jillian Leff plays force of nature Heather Booth with compassion and grace as she multitasks on endless battles with injustice: America never lacks for them. Jennifer Mohr’s Ruth and Kirsten Alesia’s Jody do justice to the brave women they portray. There is much food for thought here, and we need to recognize these pioneers for the sHeroes they are.
Jane: Abortion and the Underground is playing at the Edge Off Broadway, 1133 West Catalpa in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood, on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm through October 15th. For tickets and information go to http://www.idlemuse.org/productions/jane
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