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Oh God, A Show About Abortion

Theatre Review by James Wilson - May 9, 2022

Alison Leiby
Photo by Mindy Tucker
As Bob Hope once said, "Timing is the essence of life, and definitely of comedy." Writer and comedian Alison Leiby, whose stand-up performance/ autobiographical monologue Oh God, A Show About Abortion is currently running at the Cherry Lane Theater, possesses indisputable comic timing. Over the course of the evening, nearly every joke lands, and the laughs come fast and furious even when she is talking about what people would rather not talk about.

Either by luck or design, though, Leiby has something else going for her: exceptional political timing. Opening in the midst of the national uproar over the leaked Supreme Court's draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, Oh God feels necessary and urgent in a way that it would not have, say, two weeks ago. Now, that's impeccable timing.

At the beginning of the show, Leiby states matter-of-factly, "So, I had an abortion three years ago." Reacting in a way that would send diehard pro-lifers into convulsions, the audience at the performance I attended clapped and cheered loudly. The 70-minute play that follows recounts, often in hilarious detail, the particulars of finding out about her unwanted pregnancy, the mechanisms for securing an appointment through Planned Parenthood, and the (painless) procedure itself. Along the way, Leiby tells funny stories about growing up in a liberal Jewish household and shares wry observations about cultural attitudes toward a variety of subjects, including women's bodies, menstruation, and birth control.

The effectiveness of the piece stems from its utter ordinariness. Leiby's chronicle is not filled with agonized decisions, traumatic medical ordeals, or lingering regret. On the contrary, she unsentimentally states that she emphatically doesn't want children (another line which produced whoops and applause), and the folks at Planned Parenthood couldn't have been more professional and assuring. If faced with the same situation, she would do it all over again (except maybe the getting pregnant part).

Of course, there is a certain amount of comic absurdity in the material, such as when Leiby called the clinic to make an appointment for an abortion. The helpful administrator's initial response was, "Are you pregnant?" This begs the question, do women actually schedule appointments in anticipation of becoming pregnant? And prior to the procedure itself, the doctor asked her if she would want to know if she were carrying twins. Wondering why the need for the question, she ponders, "What woman is showing up to an abortion and is like 'Wait, two? Never mind, I'm good!'"

Leiby has written for and was a co-producer of the Amazon comedy-drama "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." Like her fictional counterpart, Leiby uses her own experiences to highlight larger social issues and gender inequalities. In the process she establishes without a doubt that the personal is political. Yet, the approach does not come across as grandstanding. Breezily directed by Lila Neugebauer, Oh God feels instead intimate and friendly. Leiby does all the talking, but the anecdotes give the impression that she is in conversation with the audience.

Near the end of the monologue, Leiby relates a story about an abortion that occurred before Roe v. Wade. The scenario is harrowing, and it forcefully serves as a direct counterpoint to the show's central narrative. A few weeks ago, the account might be perceived as a painful reminder of life before Roe. This week, it serves as a scary premonition of possible things to come.

At a time when it is needed most, Oh God, A Show About Abortion potently demonstrates that it's okay to laugh about abortion. For now.

Oh God, A Show About Abortion
Through June 4, 2022
Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St., New York, NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: