Huntington's "Choice": Wicked Good?

Johanna Day, Ken Cheeseman, Connie Ray & Munson Hicks in "Choice"
(photo: T. Charles Erickson)

What can one say about a play with a character named Zipporah “Zippy” Zunder? Zounds! It so happens that she's the main protagonist in Huntington Theatre Company's latest offering, a new play by Winnie Holzman (who wrote the Book for Wicked for the Broadway stage and My So-Called Life for television). Not long into the play (and thus this is not a spoiler) it's revealed that a successful journalist, the aforementioned Zippy (Johanna Day) is concerned with a new polarizing social phenomenon having to do with the belief that people can be reconnected with the souls of their aborted children (through an organization named CLAF, for “Children Lost and Found”). She's supported (or not) by friends and family, namely her aging husband Clark Plumly (Munson Hicks), her daughter and recent college grad Zoe (Madeline Wise) ), her best friend Erica (Connie Ray), Erica's boyfriend Mark (Ken Cheeseman) and Zippy's new assistant Hunter Rush (Raviv Ullman). The only other characters are The Other Mark (also played by Cheeseman) and Leah or Lena (Wise again). The place is identified in the program as “Near and in New York'; the time as “Now”. Advance word was that the work was to be about a woman's right to choose.

What it turns out to be about is an unpleasantly annoying group of people you wouldn't want to get stuck with at a cocktail party and whose idea of humor is making cruel fun of elderly issues like deafness and forgetfulness, and even one character's awkward recovery from a stroke. They all have an irritating tendency to interrupt one another or finish one another's sentences. While the actors are all fine (and much better than the material warrants), and Director Sheryl Kaller tries valiantly to construct a dramatic arc that's not there, the plot is just plain bizarre. Once in a great while there's a line with some import, such as Clark's admonition that “you don't get to finish everything”. More often there are such head-scratchers as “we made something not happen” and “that's so 'Freaky Friday' of us”, betraying a knack for successful situation comedy with a paranormal bent.

Kaller has stated that what Holzman is trying to say is “we create our choices”. And as Holzman herself has put it: “Our generation of women didn't really see having choices modeled”. She quotes her character Erica: “we looked at our mothers and we thought 'I can't live that life'. But then how am I going to live?”. The playwright deals with our choice to view ourselves and our past choices in a new light, but doesn't offer much insight. The creative team includes several Boston University alumni and faculty, such as Scenic Designer James Noone, Costume Designer Mariann S. Verheyen, and Lighting Designer Rui Rita, with Sound Design by Leon Rothenberg. All make positive contributions, most notably Noone, especially with his meticulously decorated, versatile kitchen about the size of the galley on a cruise ship.

Somewhere a playwright is composing a work that will tackle the problems of discrimination against women in its many guises and will actually pose questions about the ramifications of a soul surviving after an abortion (such as what sort of relationship would be appropriate, what responsibilities that might entail, and what impact that would have on both the philosophical and theological worlds). But this, disappointingly, isn't it. It was nonetheless a gutsy choice of a topic for a comedy, but not a wicked good one. Sondheim put it best (in the song “Move On” from Sunday in the Park with George): “I chose and my world was shaken. So what? The choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not...you have to move on”. Sound advice for all concerned.

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