Thursday, November 05, 2015

"Choice" by Winnie Holzman - Another Dramatic Achievement by the Huntington Theatre Company - Through November 15

In a season full of dramatic and musical delights, the current Huntington Theatre Production of "Choice" at the BCA's Calderwood Pavilion stands out as one of the best.  Written by Winnie Holzman, this play examines the issue of abortion choices from a variety of angles. One of her main points seems to be that there is not a single monolithic voice with which feminists must speak about the issue of a woman's right to choose.

The story is told primarily through the lens of the friendship between Zippy Zunder (Johanna Day), a successful writer married to an even more successful writer much older than she and her confidante, Erica (Connie Ray).  Zippy undertakes the assignment of writing a major magazine piece about the phenomenon of a growing number of women who have come to believe that the soul of their aborted child goes on to inhabit another body exactly nine months and forty-nine days after the abortion.  In researching and writing this piece, Zippy taps into her own memories of a long ago abortion, and she incorporates those thoughts and feelings into the article.  She asks Erica to read what she has written, and their divergent views about objectivity and how a woman should feel about having chosen abortion triggers a deep rift in their relationship.

Woven around this core conflict is the dynamic of Zippy's husband, Clark (Munson Hicks) slowly drifting toward the end of his life, writing his valedictory memoir.  His mis-hearing of many snippets of dialogue provide much needed comic relief in this otherwise very heavy piece.  He thinks Zippy's new assistant, Hunter, is called "Gunther." Their daughter, Zoe, is a rudderless young college graduate with a history of a suicide attempt, and a reluctance to move out of the nest and start a life on her own.  Erica's current boyfriend, Mark (Ken Cheeseman) is part of the initial gathering in Zippy's gorgeous suburban kitchen, a room that reminded me of Better Homes and Gardens photos of Fairfield and Westchester County estates.  Mark offers to help solve a problem with a feral cat using the family doggie door to gain entrance to the home and scare Zippy.   Another rift in the Zippy-Erica partnership is Zippy's decision to ignore Erica's warnings and hire one of Erica's former students as a personal assistant.  Hunter Rush (Raviv Ullman) adds an additional layer of complexity to the story as he insinuates himself into the life of the family. There are mystical and pseudo-spiritual vibes in the air between Zippy and Hunter.  Could he contain the soul of the child she aborted so many years ago?

The cast of Choice at the Huntington Theatre Company
Directed by Sheryl Kaller, written by Winnie Holzman
Playing Through November 15, 2015
South End/Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA.
Photo: T. Charles Erickson.
The telling of this convoluted tale is greatly enhanced by the creative talent that Director Sheryl Kaller has assembled.  As is always the case with a Huntington production, the set is simply breathtaking in its beauty and versatility.  Scenic Designer James Noone has the magic touch. Costumes by Marian S. Verheyen help to define each character, Lighting Design by Rul Rita and Sound Design by Leon Rothenberg suggest some of the mystical happenings that swirl around Zippy and her household.

The success of this production centers on the superb writing.  The woman who gave us Elphaba and Glinda in "Wicked" bewitches us with the easy flow of her dialogue, the vibrancy of the characters she has created, and the complexity of the issues she tackles in this play.  Conversations feel very real, with characters cutting off one another in mid sentence to interrupt - in a sense aborting the communication before it comes to full term.

The cast members have been carefully chosen to flesh out the characters that Ms. Holzman has birthed on paper.
  • Connie Ray as Erica has her most striking moment on stage when she and Zippy face off in dispute over the magazine article that Zippy has written - only to see it aborted by the magazine.  She is struggling with bottled up feelings that Zipply has come too close to excavating, and their bond is not strong enough to withstand the force of this blow.
  • Munson Hicks as Clark is perfect as the older husband and father content to dodder around, trying to finish his memoir before death comes knocking, but not stressed out about it.
  • Johanna Day is the center of the action and of the emotions in this story.  Her interactions with her husband, daughter, friend and assistant call upon a wide variety of emotions and communication styles, and Ms. Day masters them all.  As an actor in this role, she makes all the right choices.
  • Ken Cheeseman shines in his ability to be two Marks - Erica's current boyfriend and Zippy's ex-lover.  As the Austrian ex-boyfriend who has suffered a stroke, he stands out, offering a faux Austrian accident and inability to remember certain nouns that adds another touch of humor.
  • Madeline Wise plays three roles: the daughter Zoe, a waxing beautician and an abortion nurse. She differentiates each character well, and as Zoe, we see her emerge from her depressive funk to summon the courage to move out, triggering a reaction in her mother that is ambivalent.  The common thread among the three characters played by Ms. Wise is that they each remove something - unwanted hair, an unwanted fetus, and a daughter who should have removed herself from the household long ago.
  • One of the delights of this production is the performance of Raviv Ullman as Hunter. Roguishly charming, he causes us to wonder if he is a sociopath waiting to attack, or a truly caring and ambitious young man trying to help Zippy and her family to succeed.  It is a very satisfying and layered performance.
"Choice" will play through November 15 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA in Boston's South End.  I strong suggested that you exercise you freedom of choice and book tickets to see this show, one of this season's best works.


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