By Margaret Miller
Music by Heather Summers
Directed by Abby Koenig
A review by Ben Gierhart
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Ben Gierhart. All rights reserved.
Recent headlines are distressing to read. How is it that women are still being stripped of body autonomy? It seems ridiculous. Why is this political relic still up for debate? Even beyond this one issue – and despite where one falls on it – it seems that childbirth is constantly at the forefront when discussing female identity. Biologically speaking, it is no doubt important to the continuation of the human race, but for trans and cisgender women alike, why is it that a woman’s value is still so inexorably tied to her ability to give birth? How does this capacity – or lack thereof – still seem to place her very womanhood in peril?
With her newest work, [In]Fertility, playwright Margaret Miller doesn’t strive to answer these questions for all women. In a largely one-woman performance, Miller performs her own words – an account of her own personal story – swimming in a stormy sea in search of dry land and answers that only she can find for herself. She is supported by the musical stylings of Heather Summers who also steps into supporting acting roles as the story calls for it.
The strength and appeal of Miller’s story is how tragically ubiquitous it is. It’s deeply personal, and consequently full of heartfelt laughs and clear moments of trauma that are uniquely hers. It’s also unquestionably relatable. Audience members were enraptured with chuckles and gasps alike, a clear testament to the sharp, effective storytelling at play.
Miller is a great chronicler of her personal history. The character of her husband is ever offstage, and indeed, we only see him through her lens. However, he seems just as real and present as she is. Miller’s narrative does a good job of conveying how much personal growth she underwent while in the relationship with her husband, a benefit to both parties in any healthy relationship, but it’s precisely because of this that the next phase of the story is difficult to watch.
Miller next relates how she and her husband chose to have children, and it’s heartbreaking to watch her tell a story wrought with such difficulty. Occasionally stepping out of the central narrative, Miller educates the audience on some of the technical aspects of pregnancy and the process many women go through when they attempt to have children relatively later in life. This works surprisingly well from a logistical standpoint – the audience needs to know these things to understand the dramatic beats Miller hits later. This device also works on a metatheatrical level, offering Miller a sense of distance from painful memories.
The show also features strong direction from Abby Koenig. For the majority of the play’s duration, there is precise care taken into what she wants the audience to look at, what she wants them to hear, and what she wants them to experience overall. And wisely, she often gets out of the way and just lets Miller do her thing. As the MeX is a black box theater, I do wish that some of the blocking, prop use, and set design had been administered with a little more awareness of the potential of an audience on three sides, but these moments were few and far between.
Unexpected difficulties after thinking she is out of the woods serves as the show’s climax, and it is a perfect confluence of the show’s strongest aspects: Miller’s story is at its most traumatic, her acting at its most honest, and the writing at its sharpest. Summers’ soundscape underscores the emotion of the scene, and her subdued performance as the detached doctor who has to comfort an irrevocably distraught Miller is at total odds with the unimaginable pain brought to life in the scene, which was precisely Miller’s intention.
Creating art is often compared to giving birth, and while this male reviewer would never speak to the accuracy of that comparison, one has to believe that if Miller still questions her value as a woman and a human being, she shouldn’t, not when something as beautiful and thought-provoking as [In]Fertility has been brought into the world.
May 12 – 14 @ 7:00 pm
Kentucky Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Ben Gierhart is a local actor, playwright, and director who has worked with several companies in town including The Bard’s Town, Pandora Productions, Savage Rose, and Centerstage. Ben serves on the board and in the acting ensemble for The Bard’s Town Theatre, and he is also a founding member of the Derby City Playwrights, a collective dedicated to creating new and exciting plays in Louisville.