Archive for Friday, April 6, 2007

Keely’ fuels debate

April 6, 2007


Jane Martin's "Keely and Du" premiered in 1993 at the Actors Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival of New American Plays. That its central conflict still resonates is a testament both to the power of the conflict and the power of the play to articulate it. That someone would write "Keely and Du" is as inevitable as the characters inhabiting it. The pervasiveness, power and pain of the abortion debate is much too strong to ignore.

Directed by graduate student Katrina Bondari, University Theatre's production of "Keely and Du" cuts to the heart of the debate by dramatizing the realities of the people whom it affects. Brutally raped by her ex-husband, Keely discovers she is pregnant. Before she can have an abortion, she is kidnapped by a conservative Christian organization that arranges to keep her hostage long enough to carry the baby to term. Trapped in a basement room with Du (Jenna Bleecker) as her nurse and keeper, Keely (Meg Saricks) is forced to confront the unpleasant realities of the abortion process by Walter (Tosin Morohunfola), a preacher and member of this underground organization.

Of course, Keely and Du develop both sympathy and empathy for one another as they spend the long weeks together, becoming individuals to each other rather than merely representatives of the sides of a larger political debate. Saricks' Keely is frustrated, angry and confused not by the aspects of abortion but by the choices in her life that have led her to this place. The character is a bit difficult to pin down, so contradictory are her impulses.

As Du, Bleecker radiates a grandmotherly efficiency and basic faith intended to be a contrast to Keely's erratic depression. However, Du is also a complex woman, dedicated to the cause for which she now has sacrificed her security. Occasionally, though, she expresses dismay over the long life of self-sacrifice for others she already has endured.

As the self-righteous Walter, Morohunfola understands and conveys the preacher's zeal and sententiousness. Walter's eyes are on a cause, and although he is willing to sacrifice others, he hesitates in the face of danger to himself. In an attempt to "bring the family together," he subjects Keely to a visit from her ex-husband Cole (George Dungan), now "reformed" and "saved" through the efforts of Walter's organization.

Dungan's twitchy, obsessive Cole is more frightening as a clean-cut, well-dressed professor of the faith than he ever would be in his previous incarnation of brutal drunk.

Bondari does an efficient job with a flawed script. Because the plot must cover several weeks of Keely's confinement and still develop the growing relationship between Keely and Du, it lurches forward in the first half hour through several brief scenes punctuated by moments of semi-darkness to indicate the passage of time. It is a tedious and frustrating process.

The play offers no answers to the abortion debate, but it does remind us that the realities of that debate most clearly exist on the individual plane as exemplars of the powerful consequences of our own decisions.

Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. today and Monday-Thursday; and 5 p.m. Saturday at KU's Inge Theatre.

- Sarah Young is a lecturer in Kansas University's English department. She can be reached at


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