By Emily Belz - 07/24/07 07:04 PM EDT
The scene unfolds at Lynnette Long’s Dupont Circle townhouse, where the three actresses — Sheila Hennessey, Kim Jackson and Audra Alise Polk — and director Brook Brod are preparing for the opening of “One in Two” at the Atlas Theatre July 25 as part of the Capital Fringe Festival.
“They meet in an abortion clinic,” Long says. “In a way it’s like ‘The Breakfast Club’ — they’re from all different family systems.”
Long wrote the play from real-life stories she heard while working as a psychologist and from her studies. The title comes from the statistical shocker that one in two women in the United States has had an abortion by age 50.
“It’s my first play, and it’s very provocative,” Long says. “You open this box and let it out. People cry.”
Long wells up as she talks about it. Though her voice remains steady and strong, she leans in and gestures to communicate her intense feelings.
“This is uncharted territory,” she says, explaining that being a psychologist lets her inside the heads of women struggling before and after abortion. She wants to stir up more compassion and tolerance for women who have experienced abortion.
“[The play] doesn’t paint a rosy picture,” she says. “It’s a stressful event when you’re pregnant and don’t want to be pregnant. The play tries to convey the feeling of being trapped.”
The characters are raw — they share their inmost thoughts about sex, manipulation and their own helplessness.
The play is supposed to be apolitical. Though Long wants to tiptoe around the political question, she admits the subject can be too controversial for a neutral conversation.
“You can’t talk about abortion and not politicize it. But I’m trying to fly above it,” she says. “It’s a psychological play, like a docu-drama. It has tones, but you can’t help that.”
Long considers herself a feminist, and she is pro-abortion rights.
“We’ve defined the debate for a long time as ‘When is it a baby?’” she says. “But when is the woman a mother? It’s a different question. Some women are mothers before they get pregnant — they’re looking at baby magazines. When is it a baby to you?”
In the play, Charlotte utters the line, “It may be a baby to God, but it’s not a baby to me.”
Psychologically speaking, Long says, women with the least emotional trauma following an abortion are those who think of the fetus as cells and not as a baby. She finds pro-life demonstrations where protesters display posters of dead fetuses cruel to women who have experienced an abortion.
Still, Long adds, not all feminists are pleased with what she has to say. She insists that abortion is not like “getting a mole removed” — physical and psychological consequences follow.
“It’s a choice, but not a free choice,” she says. “There’s a loss.”
Long lived in Japan for a year and witnessed a different perspective on abortion. She explains that the Japanese view a fetus as a “water baby” — not just tissue, but also not fully a person. When a woman has an abortion, what typically follows is a ceremony of passing to acknowledge the loss.
“I get angry at pro-choice women who say, ‘It’s tissue,’” she says, adding that women who undergo the procedure endure a traumatic experience.
“A lot of times they’ll immediately fall apart, because they’re losing hopes and dreams,” she says. “Hormones change. There’s a psychological loss, a physical loss. There’s shame.”
Though she exposes the psychological fallout from an abortion, Long doesn’t advocate alternatives to it, other than avoiding pregnancy. Adoption, she says, is worse for the birth mother, giving her “grief without a grave.”
“I see abortion as the least offensive choice,” she says.
Long has conducted readings of the play to gauge response — she says it “paralyzes” the audience while sparking debate.
“They want to talk, they want to argue,” she says. “They tell me all about their abortions.” Men at the readings, she says, often are clueless about a woman’s experience in a terminated pregnancy.
The play may be something like a massive therapy session. “It’s for the brave,” Long says.
Long’s legacy begins well before this play. Ever wonder where the term “latchkey kid” came from? Long coined it. Three decades ago she was the principal at a Catholic elementary school in D.C. Students were not allowed to wear jewelry, but Long noticed lots of them wearing keys around their necks. She started looking into the reason and was shocked to discover many of the children spending their afternoons alone, or worse.
She asked a third-grader where she spent the afternoon. “In the closet,” the girl replied. “I’m too scared to come out.”
Long and her husband, Thomas, worked together on a book chronicling the children’s experiences and the “latchkey” phenomenon.
“We have distanced ourselves from parenting physically,” she says. “We are the only animal that leaves our children at birth. That has changed the tapestry of the country.”
She argues that American culture has become cold, with everyone distanced from everyone else. An infant should be with his or her mother, she says, as they are in other cultures, where infants often sleep in the same bed as the parent.
If Long ever leaves her therapy practice and gives up writing plays, she dreams of running for Congress on one issue: representative democracy.
“I know we have one, but obviously, we don’t. Look at the immigration bill,” she says, holding out her hands in exasperation. Long says she would use the Internet to let constituents decide issues.
Long is unsure of whether the play will run in other cities, but she hopes to show it at therapists’ conventions, where she can drum up support to send it to New York City.
The play “One in Two” opens at the Atlas Theatre July 25 and runs until the 29th as part of the Capital Fringe Festival. Tickets are $15.