While watching the Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga’s production of Keely and Du, I was relieved to be writing the review and not working on the marketing campaign. It’s a hard sell, to say the least. The play takes the hot-button issue of abortion and hurls it into the audience like a hand grenade. It’s hard to call Keely and Du enjoyable, but it’s certainly exciting.
The action opens on a young, unconscious woman being locked in a basement with an older southern woman. Upon waking, Keely, discovers she has been kidnapped by an extremist Christian sect to prevent her from having an abortion. And the woman she shares her prison with is Du, her nurse and only companion for the duration of her pregnancy. For the next hour and a half, this basement is a prison for the audience as well.
Christy Gallo inhabits the role of Keely and makes her rage like a caged animal. It’s an exhausting performance, full of anger, bitterness, panic, and finally, compassion. The role of Keely requires a top tier actress and it gets one in Gallo. She takes a journey into hell and makes us question our belief in absolution.
In a diametrically opposing role, Kitty Reel plays Du, the kindly, naive Christian soldier. And it’s to Ms. Reel’s credit that she doesn’t seem to be performing at all. It’s as if this woman walked into the theatre from the Steel Magnolia’s beauty shop. Anyone from the south will recognize her kind. She speaks in idioms, counts her blessings, and loves to talk. And her only gossip partner just happens to hate the sight of her. And so is formed our odd couple.
This play, by Jane Martin (a pen name for an unknown playwright) is a vehicle for two actresses. The rest of the male cast is largely siphons for talking points. They are designed to be two-dimensional and representational. The leader of the fundamentalist kidnappers, played by Chris Cooper, is a pathetic sort of man, because he so wants to be a fisher of men, but is ultimately uninspiring and cowardly. Cooper gives a sedated performance, which works to express the leader’s ineffectualness.
Lastly, our ensemble is rounded out by Jordan Williams as the man whose baby Keely was trying to abort. Another pathetic creature, who can only stand tall, when standing on the backs of others. Williams is natural and effective, in a small but crucial role.
The production, directed by Casey Keelen, takes advantage of its ingredients. The intensity of Christy Gallo, the homespun charm of Kitty Reel, the squeak of the dungeon door, the whirring of the lights, all add color to the bleak premise. And the actors and script find humor in the darkest of places. Barefoot in the Park
, this is not. But, if you possess an open-mind and a strong stomach, then Keely and Du
is a play to see. And discuss. More information can be found at ensembletheatreofchattanooga.com