theater review

The Appointment Is a Fetal Fantasia on National Themes

From The Appointment, at the WP Theater. Photo: Michael Kushner

Before you commit to The Appointment, think long and hard about the demands of being a daddy. Are you ready to provide for a fetus in need, to feed it and to comfort it? Specifically, a fetus played by a full-grown adult in a bodysuit, one who will address you from the stage and demand validation and attention, both the fatherly kind and another, perhaps more sexual type from everyone in the audience. They’ll sing at you. They’ll ask you to care for them. They’ll even demand snacks. It is a wild experience to watch. And just to be clear, the daddies have it easy.

Such are the flights of absurdity in Lightning Rod Special’s musical, now in a return run at the WP Theater, that skewers the process of getting an abortion in America by coming at it in curlicues. The play divides itself between episodes of relative mundanity at an abortion clinic and scenes set in a sort of Kit Kat Club, emceed by a clique of mugging fetuses within the womb. At the clinic, things are drearily mundane, with attendants snapping on latex gloves in silence and a doctor who reluctantly recites a litany of legally required, semi-factual warnings to a group of bored women. In the womb, the fetuses keep interrupting one another and browbeating the audience. They mewl for their mommies and announce things like “I’m as big as a stuffed-crust pizza with pepperoncini and broccoli rabe!” They’re little theatrical tyrants who can’t stand not being the center of attention, just as right-wingers tend to position fetuses at the middle of any debate about abortion.

The actors play the people both at the clinic and in the womb, getting in and out of their unnervingly wriggly fetus suits at record speed between scenes. The members of the Philadelphia-based Lightning Rod Special troupe devise their work together, but Alice Yorke, the lead artist for the project, acts as the entry point into the scenes in the clinic, shifting into a blank, nearly bored mien as a woman who has resigned herself to tolerating a lot of bullshit. (It’s a big contrast to her fetus self, who at one point asks a potential daddy in the audience to rank her hotness on a scale of one to ten; at the performance I saw, the guy rudely gave her a six.) The songs, written by Alex Bechtel, have a homespun, manic quality, as if the fetuses themselves might be improvising. The first devolves into a refrain of a chanting “feed us” that’s at once amusingly dumb (it sounds like “fetus”!) and menacing.

The Appointment first came to New York in 2019, making our Top 10 of the Year list. Returning after the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, it’s still fresh (and some of your ticket proceeds will go to the National Network of Abortion Funds). But The Appointment isn’t a straightforward polemic. What it captures, instead, is the surreal and maddening emotional logic of the discourse. Sometimes the line between the satirical fetus realm and the real world is obvious, such as when one dresses up as a “cool” pastor with a goatee who regrets making his girlfriend get an abortion and tries to get the audience to sing along. At others, it’s all oblique, such as an extended skit (referred to in the script as “The Great American Fetus Play”) about a family Thanksgiving where everyone is played by an actor in a fetus suit, including the turkey. I’m still puzzling out how that one ties into the rest of the production, but it’s a strange, hilarious, haunting scene that has something to do with the rationalizations people make to conform to dehumanizing systems — or maybe it’s just funny to see someone in a fetus suit say “Why did you bring out the Sauvignon Blanc?”

After spectacles like that, The Appointment quickly sucks the air right out of the satirical balloon and brings you back to that clinic. You’re now in the land of rules and procedure, of reciting your date of birth over and over to the staff, signing forms, and handing over just the right amount of cash. But maybe because you’ve been off in wild scarlet-curtained womb-land, you notice all the more clearly how the lines of the blank and passionless real world have been bent along contours of that world’s delirium. It’s the fetuses who are keeping time, and we’re the ones tap dancing for them.

The Appointment is at the WP Theater through February 4. 

The Appointment Is a Fetal Fantasia on National Themes