Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

A Star is Born in Mitzi's Abortion
at ACT Theatre


Shelley Reynolds and
Eric Ray Anderson

Though it is always good to see returning favorites in lead roles at Seattle's major playhouses, it is bracingly refreshing to see a young thespian give an incandescent performance that will undoubtedly make her one of those often-employed few.  Sharia Pierce has been doing quality work at several local venues since her 2002 arrival in Seattle, but she has clearly arrived as a force to be reckoned with in director Kurt Beattie's production of Elizabeth Heffron's challenging play Mitzi's Abortion at ACT Theatre.

With not a little comedy to lighten the proceedings, Heffron's play (winner of ACT's 2005 Best New Play award), which is set in contemporary Seattle, tells of Mitzi, a naïve, likable, Esperanto studying student and part-time Subway sandwich maker. She conceives a baby before she is really even sure she wants one, with a macho boyfriend who gets shipped away by the U.S. military before she is very far along. She then finds that that the baby, though technically alive, has only a brain stem, not a brain, and her obstetrics doctor recommends a late-term abortion. Not only do her loutish if loving mother, kindly stepfather, well meaning school friends, and the baby's father have their opinions about what Mitzi should do, but she also has otherworldly visitations from St. Thomas Aquinas and Reckless Mary, a 17th century midwife-abortionist. That these characters do not exclusively appear to Mitzi is a rather problematic script tangent, as are appearances by a character called The Expert, who rather tediously breaks in with clinical commentary and clarification. But the writing of Mitzi herself is skillful, balanced and honest, as is Pierce's performance. The moment at the end when she sings "Over the Rainbow" (just why, I will not reveal) is as moving as anything I have seen in any Seattle theatre in recent memory.

Mitzi's mess of a mother is played with frank honesty and just enough redeeming likability by Kit Harris. Eric Ray Anderson garners some big laughs as Thomas Aquinas, and offers a shaded, non-stereotypical portrayal of Mitzi's pro-life, gay school chum Tim. Leslie Law rips into Reckless Mary with a damn-the-torpedoes gusto, and as Sheila, the health plan rep who must advise that this sort of termination of pregnancy is not a covered benefit, she is a chillingly officious representative on all that is worst about the U.S. health care system. Richard Ziman scores a triple knockout in his very different roles as Mitzi's loving stepfather Rudolfo, the supportive and pro-patient Dr. Block, and Mitzi's clueless and repellent Uncle Tub. It's also good to see the vibrant Shelley Reynolds back on the boards as Mitzi's salty friend Nita, and Sean Cook is right on as Mitzi's self-absorbed soldier boyfriend Chuck, and contrastingly warm as Sergei, the lab tech who first views Mitzi's troubled fetus.

Narelle Sissons' versatile set suggests the play's varied locales aptly, and Chris Reay's lighting design and Sarah Nash Gates' costume design are both solid.  Heffron's play could stand a bit of trimming, but Beattie's direction flows very nicely with the text as it now exists. And I will go out on a limb and say that Seattle's theaters had better cast the luminous Sharia Pierce while they may, because I have a hunch this actress is going to be showing up on Broadway, and in films and TV before we know it.

Mitzi's Abortion runs through August 20 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union Street in downtown Seattle. For more information visit www.acttheatre.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion

- David-Edward Hughes




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