Required viewing for freshmen at Vandy

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Registered: 04-29-2005
Required viewing for freshmen at Vandy
Fri, 09-28-2007 - 10:39am

Keely and...Do What, Now?

The theatre requirement for Vanderbilt Visions is no stranger to controversy. Last year, freshmen were required to attend Vanderbilt University Theatre’s (VUT) rendition of "The Shape of Things," which tackled such “college” issues as personal identity, sex, manipulation, honesty, self-worth, and also included some censor-worthy language and a naught-but-bra-and-panty scene.

If you were surprised by "The Shape of Things," however, hold on to your chair. This year’s Vanderbilt Visions play, called "Keely and Du" rivals Knocked Up in content—except for the whole “funny” part.

The biggest problem with this requirement is the apparent lack of warning regarding the play. Freshmen were not told about the potentially offensive content of "Shape of Things" last year, and consequently at least a few students were surprised and uncomfortable. There does not seem to be any disclaimer about this year’s show either. The Vanderbilt Visions website describes "Keely and Du" as “a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, …explores the need for human compassion in conflict with personal convictions. As one imposes her beliefs upon the other, a strange relationship between the two title characters develops as each battle for the other's heart and mind.” Considering the content of the play, however, that description is akin to describing a pit bull as a “small, furry creature, with big brown eyes and dislike for strangers.” It seems as if Vanderbilt is intent on springing this content on unaware freshmen.

So here’s the real question: What is the purpose of this play? Is Vanderbilt simply trying to promote a hearty debate among the new students by supplying a shocking presentation of a current issue? Or is it all part of a liberal agenda, an obvious ploy on the part of the university to shove a one-sided message into the faces of impressionable freshmen?

I’ll admit—I’ve read the play, and even I’m not sure.

So here’s the plot (I’ll try to avoid spoilers): The main character, Keely, is raped by her alcoholic and abusive husband, becomes pregnant, and is kidnapped by a fundamentalist right wing Christian group, where she is kept in a basement and chained to a bed to prevent her from having an abortion. Yes, it’s a bit heavy. The bulk of the play focuses on her imprisonment, and her ensuing relationship with her primary caretaker, Du, a sweet, motherly, and slightly clueless character, who contrasts sharply with Keely’s abrasive, piercing personality. Walter, the organizer of the “Operation Retrieval,” that captured Keely, plays the role of the self-righteous, arrogant, and generally unlikable overseer who bombards the chained and exhausted Keely with images of aborted babies and fetal growth statistics. Keely’s abusive-turned-Christian husband also makes a guest appearance, and after begging Keely to forgive him and accept Jesus, promptly leaves the stage after slapping her for her attitude of repulsion. Whew.

Despite the play’s seemingly obvious agenda, there is another side to the message. Although Walter is arrogant and unlikable, his attempts to reason with Keely are often rational and well articulated. It’s easy to pity Keely, as the course of the play reveals her depressed personality and bleak situation, but that doesn’t make it easy to side with her, as the play is replete with her angry, irrational outbursts and selfish attitude. Cole, her repentant husband, incites disgust for his fake and condescending forgiveness speech, but the whole play is softened by the love and compassion of the motherly Du, who takes Keely under her wings and tries to show her the love of God and the care of a parent. The ending too, leaves some room for ambiguity as to whether or not Keely has changed her seemingly steadfast opinion. As director John Hallquist says, “I guess the reason that we chose this show is because it does such a good job of walking that fine line of presenting both sides of the abortion issue in an equally balanced fashion. I don't think that the play will change anyone's mind on this deeply personal issue. But I hope that people will discover that it is possible to passionately disagree with someone else on an issue, and yet still respect them for their strong commitment to their values. That's what I appreciate about this play. That two people that seem like such diametrically opposed individuals can find common ground. That they actually share many feelings and thoughts even though they remain true to their opposing beliefs.” Angie Fontaine, the actress who will be playing Keely, also stated “We’re working really hard to bring out the rationality and irrationality of both the pro-choice and the pro-life movements. There’s a lot of ‘not listening’ on both sides.”

Despite (or perhaps because of) the nature of the play, then, it seems as if there will be an attempt to present both sides of the issue. Now, for my recommendation (as well as a shameless plug for VUT): Go see the show. If you’re a freshman, you’ll have to see it anyway, so be prepared. But if you’re not, reserve your ticket and also be prepared. Have your radar on for pro-choice promotion, but appreciate too the raw and shocking nature of the plot. Worst case scenario: you’ll see a liberal-minded play, but at least it should be well-acted and well-directed.

Freshmen to view controversial play on abortion
Submitted by Janelle Stokes on 09-26-07, 12:36 am | More from this Writer | Submit to Digg or Facebook

Campus theater productions don't usually cause much controversy.

But this year Vanderbilt University Theatre will kick off its season with a production of "Keely and Du," a controversial play centered on the abortion debate.

The concept of the play is to "ask people to question their own views," said junior Angie Fontaine, who plays Keely.

"Not necessarily change them but question them," she said. "I think the content is jarring, but I don't think it's anything that people at this school can't handle."

The play starts off with the kidnapping of a pregnant woman outside an abortion clinic. Then the kidnappers chain the woman to a bed to force her to deliver her baby.

The freshman class will be required to attend as part of Vanderbilt Visions. Afterward, they will participate in a discussion with the actors, Vanderbilt Students for Life and Vanderbilt Feminists.

Nina Warnke, executive administrator of Vanderbilt Visions, said she feels confident the play and discussion with these groups will produce an insightful dialogue.

"I can't speak for 1,700 students, but I hope after discussing their reactions to the play and answering questions, it will add to the framework of the discussion they'll have," Warnke said. "With divisive issues like this, it's hard to have constructive and productive discussions about this, but that is what I have in my mind."

Students said they are not worried about conflict that might arise due to the controversial subject matter.

"We have all kinds of people here so I'm pretty sure that one play isn't going to cause complete discord between students. It will show both sides of the spectrum," said sophomore Shaina Johnson.

Students from both groups will combat the perceived opposition between feminists and pro-lifers.

A person "doesn't have to be one or the other," said senior Courtney Twitty, president of Students For Life. "I consider myself to be a feminist (who is) for life."

Sarah Allen, a member of Vanderbilt Feminists, said she hopes the presence of the two groups can combat the stereotypes that might arise in the audience's mind.

"We are going to try to bring it back down and talk about it the way we want to. Not all pro-life people are like this, and not all feminists believe in coat-hanger abortions. We need to make (the distinctions) clear," she said.