News: Difficult Dialogue

For a Catholic school, a hard look at abortion

Feb 21, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Natalie Hager

Chains play a prominent role in Keely and Du, but Xavier University's production of the controversial play will launch an unrestricted discussion about abortion, according to Cathy Springfield, director of theater arts for the Catholic institution.

Pro-life/pro-choice, anti-choice/anti-life, pro-abortion/anti-abortion — regardless of the terms used, abortion is one of the most hotly debated issues of our time. A Catholic institution addressing the topic isn't all that remarkable, except when the presentation includes pro-choice information.

The University Players at Xavier University present the controversial play Keely and Du March 15-18. The description of Jan Martin's play is simply stated on the school's Web site ( "Du, a right to life activist, and Keely, a pregnant rape victim she is confining, transcend their circumstances and the ideological issues that separate them. ... Who is accountable? What is the extent of individual freedom? What are a rape victim's rights? What are a Christian's realities of procreation?"

Keely is abducted by Operation Rescue volunteers on her way to an abortion clinic. She's chained to a bed in a basement to prevent her from going through with the procedure.

The dialogue between the women and the bond they form includes both pro-choice and pro-life opinion and arguments, according to Cathy Springfield, director of theater arts for XU.

"On either side of the abortion issue, I think you'll hear a sympathetic viewpoint," Springfield says. "It's really about these two very opposing, staunchly held values coming together, and I see it as the ice floes of your conscience melting and shifting and somehow coming to at least an honest look at each other's point of view."

A university's job
Anne Seczko, an XU student involved in Students for Life, a chapter of Right to Life, doesn't have a problem with any of that.

"I've never seen it, and I haven't read the script but ... I was just happy that someone was willing to address the issue at all," she says. "It's one of those issues that people feel so strongly about it that they generally don't want to talk about it. I feel like it doesn't come into the public eye as often as it should for being such an important issue.

"The only thing I have heard that concerns me is that the pro-life side is being represented by Operation Rescue. I have a problem with a lot of groups within the movement right now that I think are just polarizing the argument more."

The staging of this play isn't about setting up yet another debate to go over the same ground in a different venue. It's about exploring the complex nature of this volatile social issue. At least that's the hope of Drew Peters, assistant director of the Peace and Justice Program at XU. Referencing the school's performance of Dead Man Walking two years ago, Peters explains that discussion groups and other activities beyond the play made it possible for Xavier to bring the issue of the death penalty to an audience beyond the borders of the campus. He hopes the same will happen with Keely and Du and the issue of abortion.

"The dialogue is multi-faceted, because it is a multi-faceted and complex issue," Peters says. "They're complex social issues and, as a university, we are in a position to look at all those. That's what I'm happy about, because we're building in that education. That's what we're here for.

"Yes, the university is a Jesuit, Catholic institution. But at the same time, the opportunity is rich for discussion, rich for learning, rich for dialogue. Building that into the schedule is what I'm happy about."

Seczko agrees.

"I grew up Catholic," she says. "I've always had this pro-life perspective and thought, coming into college, 'Where are we ever going to find a solution to this?' If we just keep having debates and just keep praying about it, that's great, but it's not getting us anywhere."

More than a play
Seczko would like to see the conversation focus on positive, "women-centered" solutions, and she believes that's possible considering the additional events being offered in conjunction with the play.

Springfield is working with professors to set up a "safe room" in which a psychologist from outside XU will be available to all theatergoers immediately after each performance. She's also coordinating films and a panel discussion with representative from various faith traditions.

"We're going to have a forum two days after the play closes that is made up of various religious leaders," Springfield says. "They're going to talk about, 'This is the Buddhist perspective on abortion, the Jewish perspective, the Protestant perspective, the Catholic perspective,' and I'm working on the Muslim perspective.

"So far my research has been kind of interesting because I kind of assumed there would be a negative view of abortion across the board. But that's not the case. It seems to be centering on a woman's own conscience, her choice to make the decision in consultation with those who are involved. That's the view that I've found so far."

Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, says he doesn't know what the play is about and was unaware it's being presented at XU.

"That one's just been under my personal radar," he says.

Similarly, Paula Westwood, executive director of Cincinnati Right to Life, says she's never heard of the play. After listening to a summary, she says the storyline is "foolish" and insists, "Operation Rescue has never kidnapped anyone."

Regardless of outside perspectives, the school administration is supporting the performance, according to Kelly Leon, spokeswoman for XU.

"This is an academic institution, and the way we approach things is thoughtful and thorough," she says.

The University Players at Xavier University present Keely and Du at the Gallagher Student Center Theater. For tickets or information, call 513-745-3939 or 513-745-3576.