by Cathy Hammer
In September 1983, Ireland passed the Eighth Amendment to their constitution, giving equal rights to life of a pregnant woman and her unborn child. The amendment was intended to ensure that legalized abortion would be solely restricted to cases in which there was an extremely high risk that the mother would die if she took her fetus to term. As a result of this even tougher law governing the right to choose, Irish women in a variety of circumstances were forced to take a ferry to England if they needed to terminate a pregnancy.
It is against this backdrop of Ireland’s abortion gray area that the events of Get the Boat unfold. In order to ensure that her New York audience would have the proper historical context, playwright Eavan Brennan now starts her production with a series of news clips covering protests, interviews and the vote from 1983. While understandable, the addition of this video package has the unfortunate side effect of also dampening the major reveal that transpires halfway through her script. From the start, when Bridget says she is on her way to a bachelorette party and Grainne claims to have won her pleasure trip in a raffle, we know at least one of them is lying.
Despite this spoiler, there are still numerous well constructed moments in this story that boldly illustrate how two diverse life paths can share common territory. Though we get to know them for less than an hour, we gain tremendous insight into the difficult decision that both women are making. Grainne has learned that the daughter she is carrying is severely deformed and unlikely to live for long, if at all. She is essentially pro life, but has come to understand that aborting a child that is doomed to live a short life in constant pain is the most compassionate way that she can be a mother to her. But even with that realization at the forefront of her mind, Grainne is unable to bring herself to feel compassion towards Bridget. Bridget’s child is healthy, but she has learned she will have no support from the child’s father and she is already responsible for a young son. She tries to explain how she too is doing her best to be a responsible mother, yet she cannot get beyond Grainne’s wall of judgment.
Siohan Donnellan brings a racking sadness to her performance as Grainne. She wants to keep her horrible secret to herself, but it is as if her body can’t contain her sorrow any better than it can hold on to her deformed fetus. Playwright Eavan Brennan succeeds in the even more challenging role, sharing Bridget’s history. It can be harder to earn compassion when the issues of money and support outweigh a question of health. It was the intention of the amendment to make situations like Bridget’s impossible to resolve lawfully. The unfair shame and blame placed on women like her led to amendment’s repeal by the vast majority of the Irish population less than two months ago. Both actresses are obviously committed to the cause and feel it’s important to continue to perform this work even now.
No technical credits have been provided for this run. There is a simple set with the video screen set up behind two cots and a small table between them. A voiceover with the ship’s announcement is the only indication that we are not on land. For the most part, the two players remain on their beds and talk to one another. The Soho Playhouse manager has done the production no favors by seating the bulk of the audience close to the stage. There is no rake for the first five rows and with the actresses perpetually seated at nearly floor level it is easy to miss the essential physicality that goes with their expressive voices.
With Get the Boat, Ms. Brennan has written a powerful piece of activist theater. She is acutely sensitive to her subject matter and has picked two clear and distinctive voices among the many thousands who share this experience. The work is a compelling conversation starter, particularly at this time when America’s own Roe v. Wade decision might well be overturned in the near future. Likely, the best way to enjoy this event is to grab a friend and purchase a Think and Drink ticket which includes two drinks along with the play for $40.
Get the Boat — SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam St, New York, NY 10013 Runtime is 50 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $35 – $40 and can be purchased by visiting SoHoPlayhouse.com call (212) 691–1555. Ends Sunday, August 5.