New York Times on Abortion Plays: One's 'Shrewd and Funny,' The Other Is 'Stalkerish'

May 13th, 2022 7:35 PM

The New York Times almost earned points on Thursday by pointing out New York had differing takes on the hot topic of abortion in the city’s theater spaces. In a “Critic’s Notebook” by Laura Collins-Hughes, there was this headline:

Comic or Graphic, Shows About Abortion Surface a Stark Divide

Decidedly anti-sensationalistic, Alison Leiby’s shrewd and funny personal monologue plays downtown. Uptown, a staged reading focuses on a gruesome case.

So you quickly suspect the “shrewd and funny” one is promoting abortion, and the “gruesome” one is opposed. (Is there such a thing as a “non-gruesome” abortion?)

So here is the first thing you need to know about Leiby’s abortion story: In a smart and entertaining show, full of observations about the sometimes painful messiness of female bodies — menstruation, childbirth, lactation — and the social pressure to put on a happy face about all of it, her trip to Planned Parenthood is the least dramatic, most calmly straightforward part.

Collins-Hughes says getting abortions is common, announcing her own abortion late in the article: "As for going behind those doors, women do that every day, seeking abortion care. Leiby did it. I’ve done it. My mom did it, too, pre-Roe v. Wade, to save her life from an ectopic pregnancy before my brothers and I were born."

Then the tone turned negative:

A couple of miles uptown, at the Chain Studio Theater on West 36th Street, is a show that announced its New York run as Oh Gosnell: The Truth About Abortion — a tabloid title with stalkerish overtones, especially given that its own news release mentions Leiby’s show.

A publicist for Oh Gosnell said that the creation of the play was inspired by Leiby’s comic monologue. “They laugh about it — we tell the truth about it,” says the website of the play now going by the name Oh Gosnell: A Show About the Truth....

Laughter and truth are not mutually exclusive, of course, even if McAleer, a right-wing provocateur whose program bio calls him “a veteran investigative journalist,” implies otherwise.

As for conveying any general truth about abortion, rather than specific truths about the gruesome case of Kermit Gosnell — a Philadelphia physician convicted in 2013 of first-degree murder for killing three babies after botched late-term abortions — it doesn’t. Neither is it constructed to persuade.

Collins-Hughes took exception to the play's producer Phelim McAleer claiming "no national media covered the story" of the Gosnell trial. She is right that the New York Times covered it. But most of the national media displayed an allergy to the Gosnell story, ignoring it for years at a time. His clinic was unsanitary, and his methods were unsafe. The feminist critic here strangely leaves out the woman who died in Gosnell's clinic, from being overmedicated. Gosnell was also convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Karnamaya Mongar, a refugee from Nepal.

Notice that Leiby the abortion comedian isn't "left-wing," she's somehow Everywoman. You can see the paper's enthusiasm for her routine because at the bottom they link to other promotional Times articles about Leiby's abortion comedy.