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The Ithaca Journal - Feb. 16, '12: Don't judge 'Mitzi's Abortion' by its title

Continuing its tradition of staging thought-provoking works, the Actor's Workshop of Ithaca Theater Company will present "Mitzi's Abortion: A Saint's Guide to Late-Term Politics and Medicine in America" this weekend at Risley Theatre on the Cornell University campus.

Written by Elizabeth Heffron, the play relates the story of Mitzi, a young woman "trying to make an intensely personal decision in a system determined to make it a political one," as described by its publisher, Original Works Publishing.

The work is an intelligent comedy with serious themes, noted Eliza VanCort, founder of the Actor's Workshop of Ithaca Theater Company. "Late-term abortion is the ultimate political football, and it just shouldn't be," she said. "Because a woman can only have a late-term abortion if her health or her life are in danger, decisions like Mitzi's should be guided by solely doctors, not politicians. What I love about this story is that with humor, compassion and grace, the play illustrates the real human cost when a personal tragedy is used to further a political agenda."

There's no getting around the title, though. Indeed, VanCort didn't even read it at first because of its name; she only relented after Jason Goldberg, from Original Works Publishing, persisted. "I finally read it, and after I put it down I thought, 'Great. Now I have to do yet another play with an unmarketable title,'" she said. "I really didn't want to like the play, but I fell in love with it. It is very hard to get past the title. But as they always say, don't judge a book by its cover."

Goldberg said that what he likes about "Mitzi" is that "it isn't what you think. It isn't some left- or right-wing piece. It goes beyond all that into the real heart of a very specific situation for this young girl, Mitzi."

"This is a play about the people in the seats," he added. "It's not elitist or, God forbid, another play about a struggling artist. Mitzi works at Subway and her beau is heading overseas with the military. It doesn't get much more Americana than that."

VanCort enlisted Christopher Teitelbaum to direct the show. "Chris is a writer with a ridiculously amazing imagination and this piece can be very fantastical, so he seemed perfectly suited for the job," she said. "I've worked with him on several projects over the years and have found him to be a thoughtful, creative director with great integrity. He also works really well with actors."

At first, Teitelbaum thought the show would be difficult to direct. "Here is a wonderful show about a really complex and emotional subject -- material that you have to be brave with but handle with care," he said last week. "It immediately presented as a challenge. Also, I was a little worried, as the material really had a female focus and as a male director I wanted to be careful to respect that. But most of all I thought, this is an important play and I think it will be a great deal of fun to direct."

VanCort acknowledged that presenting this show may invite some controversy. "Jason told me that we are one of the few companies in the country that has done it," she said. "People are understandably spooked by the title and afraid of repercussions because of the subject matter. I have to say some of the right-wing blogs really went after me personally when we did 'Dog Sees God,' and I got flack on all sides for 'Rachel Corrie.' I was hesitant to put myself out there again.

"But then I thought about it and realized that if I'm a bit scared to do it, that's exactly the reason I should do it," she said. "Fear shouldn't dictate artistic choices. Art should make people think -- why do it if you're too afraid to do pieces that inspire us? This piece inspired me, so although I'm a bit worried about potential repercussions, we're doing it."

And similarly, VanCort hopes Ithaca theatergoers will give "Mitzi" a chance. "We can only continue to do projects like this if the community that cares about the issues we are exploring comes out to see the show," she said.

Show times for "Mitzi's Abortion are 7:30 p.m. today and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $15 ($10 for students and seniors) and are available at Ticket Center Ithaca or by calling 273-4497. At the door, tickets will cost $20 ($15 for students and seniors).

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