The exact purpose of Judy Alfereti’s “In Utero,” which is currently showing at the Surgeons Hall, had at first eluded me. Jenni (Alfereti) and David (Amir Tabrizi) are a pleasant young couple who are expecting. They are, in fact, so pleasant that it would be enough to watch them playing scrabble for the entire play. We are at home with them around the scrabble board during an idyllic kind of headquarters scene which precedes the drama and which we return to intermittently throughout the play, with increased longing. These guys are a lot of fun when they are playing scrabble and there is the right chemistry in their banter.
But we have to switch on those po-faces once Jenni develops complications. The couple are dismayed, incredulous, and very apprehensive about their future as parents. David is determined to love the baby come what may, even in the event of severe disability. Jenni cannot conceal her disappointment and even disgust at a potentially disabled baby. In one outburst, she uses the word “retarded.” The play is thereafter a bit of a botched creation: a scene in which Jenni cannot bring herself to call her baby anything other than “it” is successfully powerful; whilst more televisual pearls, such as “we thought these things only happen to other people,” land on the stage floor with too much of a thump. Recordings of statements from parents whose babies have suffered from fetal anomalies are played between the scenes, but little is achieved by this. You cannot really explore these parents’ experiences and emotions by using a vox pop.
Eventually, we reach the abortion, and here the emptiness at the heart of this play is filled, albeit with what we ourselves have brought to the theatre. There is admittedly quite a shrewd manoeuvre here. I had been initially repulsed by Jenni’s hatred of her “broken” baby – it seemed as if her bitterness had essentially transmogrified her into a fascist. Of course, you are meant to wonder whether the same circumstances would reveal the same intolerance in yourself. Nonetheless, once there was any hint of the father’s love annulling Jenni’s right to an abortion, I was immediately on her side. How dare we judge her – it is nothing to do with us! And in this way, for somebody of my mind, the play promptly shuts itself down.
On the other hand, I can imagine a “pro-life” audience member thinking the unconditional love of the father to be saintly. So in its brevity and matter-of-factness, “In Utero” is unlikely to challenge our preconceptions about abortion, only reflect them.