Ambitious production puts abortion debate to music

Creators of a musical to be staged in Philadelphia later this month took the contemporary abortion debate, with its economic and socio-political weight and its issues of misogyny and hypocrisy, and made it sing.

For at least three years, the Philly performance company Lightning Rod Special (LRS) has operated on the premise that the abortion debate and a woman’s right to control her own body could be put to music and a dark, satirical script. “The Appointment” is the result of that premise, and will premiere at the FringeArts High Pressure Fire Service Festival on March 20.

“As we figure out what works and what doesn’t with this script and its staging, we’re questioning both what is right and what is most effective,” said out stage manager Sara Marinich.

Marinich and actor-creators Alice Yorke, Scott Sheppard, Katie Gould, Brett Ashley Robinson, Jaime Maseda, Bren Thomas and Lee Minora have figured out how to accomplish that with Eva Steinmetz’s direction and Alex Bechtel’s original music.

The dynamics of reproductive rights need not hit you over the head, according to the LRS crew, even if the actors do appear to dress in sperm costumes during certain interludes of “The Appointment.”

Like many things having to do with this production, its relation to LGBTQ issues exists, however, subtly, Marinich said. But in discussing the difficulties of abortion and abortion access, Marinich believes LRS’ new work is spot on.

“The difficulty of emotions, the complex feelings, the issues that are not black and white: these are issues queer people deal with, many queer people whose bodies were told to not have these issues,” said the stage manager, who has been part of the production since 2017. “There are queer moments in the show, but like many other elements of ‘The Appointment,’ they are subtle.”

As part of the team that made LRS’ Obie Award-winning “Underground Railroad Game” a politicized sensation, Yorke, who co-founded LRS in 2012, said. “The Appointment” uses biting satire in regard to misogyny as it relates to abortion. “And somehow music was a part of that,” she added with a laugh.

Shopping around a musical about abortion and making misogyny and the American male a large part of “The Appointment” wasn’t easy, according to Yorke.

“The connection is that deeply-ingrained-in-the-psyche, ‘Father Knows Best’-ness of politicians who aren’t medical practitioners, but who write laws based on certain restrictions,” she said. “A lot of those restrictions are based on things such as 24-hour waiting periods. Doctors in most states are legally mandated to give informed-consent speeches on associated procedural risks. Now, that is great information to have. But, if you come in with a busted knee, the doctor won’t suggest you maybe sit on any decision for three days.

“We’ve done research on abortion informed-consent speeches, and they are truly patronizing,” added Yorke. “They refer to the fetus as a baby. That is manipulation — one based on a politician’s assumption that a person getting an abortion isn’t prepared to make that decision for themselves.”

Those manipulative speeches, made satirical, comprise a portion of the script and lyrics of “The Appointment.”

“It took us a while to get there, especially as we used satire as our main delivery system,” Yorke said. “The use of Bechtel’s song isn’t hokey or jokey … even though we’ve pushed him to make music that is naughtier and a little less ‘composed’ than his usual. It’s like seeing a musical where you might not be into the story, but the music is so deliciously manipulative. You feel something there. Maybe it’s unease. Maybe you’re provoked. That’s fine. We’re asking the audience to feel, even if it is uncomfortable.

Like other LRS works, such as “The Underground Railroad” (investigating race and sex in contemporary culture in relation to education) and “Withstand Everything” (seeking the place of art in a world of automation), “The Appointment” looks at that which is bugging the performance company’s membership and its place in the world by portraying conscientious provocation.

“I think ‘The Appointment’ putting people in an comfortable space only to change things up, especially with the music, is prickly,” Marinich said. “You get these really sweet songs that you want to groove with, then, the things they’re saying are pointy. They force you to deal with the situation of what abortion is in this society. Even if you want to glaze over it, you can’t.” 


Lightning Rod Special’s “The Appointment” runs March 20-31 at FringeArts as part of its High Pressure Fire Service Festival. .