Playwright Wendy MacLeod has fashioned an exquisite modern-day Romeo and Juliet saga, set against the ongoing conflict between “pro-life” and “pro-choice” advocates. The play is staged with deep insight and empathy by Lisa James, and Wendy Makkena (Megan) and Don McManus (Randall) are superb as the star-crossed lovers, exhibiting such tangible affection for one another that the demise of their relationship is as heartbreaking as the issues they ultimately cannot transcend. The production is further enhanced by an outstanding supporting cast.
In New York City, out-of-work actress Megan is given the news that she is about to move from ravishing ingenue to wholesome young mom when she is offered a great deal of money to do a public service TV ad for a pro-life organization headed by the handsome and dynamic divorcee, Randall. Though Megan possesses strong pro-choice ideals, she is still haunted by the visage of strapping and outgoing Chance (Christopher Collet), the incarnation of the fetus she aborted when she was a scared and immature 16-year-old.
Makkena, who created the role of Megan in the original New York Playwrights Horizon production, and McManus exude magnetic attraction. The developing love affair between Megan and Randall is imbued with such intelligence, humor and compassion, they rightfully take the focus away from MacLeod’s relentless but skillfully inserted concerns. When events at a pro-life rally lead to a catastrophe, the ultimate tragedy is how it affects these two fine human beings.
Militants blight both sides of the abortion issue, and this play contains some striking portrayals of such people. Sarah Zinsser’s pro-choice Liz is the embodiment of an embittered sarcastic, self-loathing arch feminist. And Billie Worley and Sarah Bibb are actually scary as Randall’s geeky, mentally unbalanced pro-life volunteers, Tony Dinardi and Crystal, respectively.
Collet is the epitome of teenage exuberance and potential, striving for another chance at life. Claudette Nevins demonstrates coldly efficient expediency as Megan’s agent, empathetic warmth and concern as her mother and mischievous playfulness as her cat. Also lending solid support in a variety of roles is Dave Higgins, totally believable as blue-collar father, flamboyant hairdresser, harried TV director or the overly solicitous Buddhist priest, who explains to Megan the shrine of “the water children” who have been lost to abortion.
Director James wisely allows the work to evolve seamlessly, without heavy use of blackouts, stage furniture or props, thereby never allowing the developing emotional intensity to ebb or falter. She is aided immensely by the simple, modular set deign of Deborah Raymond and Dorian Vernacchio, as well as the effectively sparse lighting of Keith Endo and the mood enhancing sound design of Matthew C. Beville.
“The Water Children” is double cast. Alternate performances feature Pam Dawber (Megan), Gregg Henry (Randall), Marilyn McIntyre (Agent/Mom/Cat), Cindy Katz (Liz), Christopher Gorham (Chance), Time Winters (Father/Roger/Jim/Priest), JD Cullum (Tony Dinardi), Sara Rue (Crystal).