February 8, 2012

Mitzi's Abortion: A Play About a Difficult Decision

By Bryan VanCampen

Mitzi's Abortion is a play by a Seattle-based playwright Elizabeth Heffron. The play dramatizes the journey of a young woman who is advised by her doctor to have a late-term abortion due to anencephaly, a severe birth defect, in her child. The social and cultural conflicts that arise as a result of her and her doctor's decision serve as the basis for the play. The play originally ran at the ACT Theatre in Seattle in the summer of 2006, and the Actor's Workshop Theatre presents it at Risley Theatre this weekend.

"It starts out as this fantastical ride, and then at the end, it kind of roots you back to Earth, and it's just an incredibly moving tear jerker of an ending," says AWT founder Eliza VanCort. "It's an amazing piece.

"We had a show last year with this publishing company called "Original Works in L.A.," and they only do original works. That's the only thing they publish," says VanCort. "And they contacted me and said, 'No one will produce this play. I really want you to read this, and it's incredible.'

"I said, 'What's it called?' and they said, Mitzi's Abortion. And I said, 'I'm not doing this play. I just can't do another play with an unmarketable title.'"

VanCort is referring to Jeff Goode's Poona the F**dog and Other Plays for Children, previously produced by AWT. "It seems that we're specializing in titles that are a little bit racy or inaccessible." I asked her if the Poona production had played to no patrons.

"No! I mean luckily, amazingly enough, we were sold out. People were scalping tickets in the aisles!" VanCort laughs. "I was concerned, because it just seemed like the thing where people couldn't even utter the title. It's hard to sell it."

At least Heffron's play does what it can to soften the blows, as it were - notions like starting the play with an introduction by Saint Thomas Aquinas, first seen enjoying himself on a Sharper Image massage chair, telling us what we're about to see, even going so far as to call the evening's entertainment a "downer."

That's not what Chris Teitelbaum thought, when VanCort handed him the script to consider directing. "I got really excited, because I like the fact that the title's a little misleading. You think, 'Oh here's another thing about abortion and politics,' when in fact you're dealing with a very tragic story. And I liked the fact that, wow, it's about someone dealing with life really throwing them a curve ball. It was wonderfully unexpected, when I got the title."

Teitelbaum was an IC student majoring in film when he took the AWT classes to learn how to deal better with actors. Over the years, VanCort would give him showcase scenes to direct, and when she read Mitzi's Abortion, she instinctively knew it was his to direct. "Chris has a really fertile imagination, and when I read it, I thought, 'Oh my God, this is Chris's piece. I tend to direct things that are a little more rooted in reality, and this is ... not that."

Heffron's meta-opening gives way to a highly wacky yet emotional stage piece that owes more than a little to a certain 1939 movie classic.

"It's very stylized," confirms VanCort. "As I've been reading it and picking it apart; it's an allegory for The Wizard of Oz. Mitzi is definitely Dorothy. They have all these characters that, as she finds out she needs a third trimester abortion, she kinda falls into Oz and all these characters become other people. At the very end, she kind of gets home, and the last thing they sing is 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow.'" (Since L. Frank Baum's classic is itself an allegory, Heffron's play perhaps qualifies as an allegory of an allegory.)

The production stars Dayna Jorgenson as Mitzi. "Dayna was a lead in the first show of our theater company, Dog Sees God", says VanCort. "She comes from a religious family, she was a military brat and will offer an interesting perspective." The cast also includes AWT students and associates Elissa Klie, Darryle Johnson, Jeff Hodges, Dan Taylor, Deirdre Levine, Alek Osinski and Kristin Sad.


Mitzi's Abortion plays February 15-18 at Risley Hall. For more information, visit