by Olivia Wood for The Dance Journal | Photo by Johanna Austin
The last thing I expected during The Lightning Rod Special’s performance of The Appointment at Fringe Arts on Thursday, March 21, 2019, was to find myself laughing hysterically. An original work written by lead artist, Alice York, and company members Eva Steinmetz, Scott R. Sheppard, and Alex Bechtel, featuring choreography by Melanie Cotton, The Appointment poignantly addressed one of the most polemic subjects of our contemporary society: abortions.
Knowing ahead of time that the piece’s central theme was abortion, I expected the work to favor one viewpoint over another. However, my expectations were challenged as the work seemingly achieved the impossible: through live music, clever lyrics, audience participation, and choreography, The Lightning Rod Special managed to present opposing viewpoints with equally satirical moments. The actors portrayed unborn fetuses with individual personalities as well as pregnant women undergoing abortions and the doctors providing them.
Although I would not define The Appointment as a dance performance (rather, it was more of a musical/physical theater show), the choreography generally supported the trajectory of the piece. The jazzy opener, which clearly derived inspiration from Bob Fosse and Madonna, immediately engaged the audience with sharp isolations, quick footwork, and voguing. One of the most visually striking images occurred as soon as the house lights darkened and the curtain opened. The performers were revealed, each illuminated by a red spotlight, as they reclined on chairs and gently floated their limbs as if they were swimming in amniotic fluid. This image allowed the entire theater to be transformed into a womb.
From what we learn and observe from the show, a womb is a dichotomous place. It can be nurturing and safe or it can be dangerous (notwithstanding complications with pregnancy). Such is also true of the theater and such is true of today’s world in general. The actors’ humorous commentary draws attention to other problematic issues in our society, such as racism and poverty, and begs the question of whether or not it is ethical to bring an unplanned or unwanted fetus into such a cruel world. During one of the final songs, in which the characters prepare for their abortions, the women tear their magazines to shreds in the waiting room, effectively symbolizing their anger and the destruction of the idea of the perfect feminine (motherhood and docility, for example) and their right to physical autonomy. On the other hand, a singing, leather-clad Jesus and the fetuses’ unique personalities reinforce that all life is precious and should be valued.
Interestingly, the performance makes the aforementioned point while also reminding the audience that not all life is equally valued in our society. For instance, two of the performers are black and remarked that they are different from the other fetuses because they are “the cute ones.” They proceeded to tell the audience that it is dangerous for them to be born because of their cuteness and that they are afraid of being shot…by cameras. Clearly, the company emphasized the racism that still exists within our culture. Additionally, all of the medical professionals were portrayed by men, thereby not-so-subtly hinting that we live in a male-dominated culture in which men oversee women’s bodies. Conversely, a woman in drag played Jesus, challenging gender norms.
In ninety minutes, The Lightning Rod Special presents a work that addresses race, economics, abuse, abortions, the meaning of life, religion, and gender while challenging audience members to consider their own opinions about these issues. The laughter that the show provokes becomes the glass of water we drink to digest the bitter pills the show prescribes.