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Theatre B keeps audience on edge with abortion drama

"Keely and Du" uses the controversial issue to also address domestic violence.

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Lori Horvik as Du tries to comfort her prisoner, Keely, played by Maren Jystad-Spar.
Contributed / Scott Thuen
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MOORHEAD — In Theatre B’s production of “Keely and Du,” upon waking up chained to a bed, Keely is understandably confused and asks why she’s being held captive.

“Why” is a recurring question in the play, though there aren’t always answers.

On the surface, the drama is about one of the most divisive issues: abortion. Keely is abducted on her way to an abortion by members of an extremist Christian group called Operation Retrieval. Their goal is to keep her chained to a bed until she is far enough along in the pregnancy that she can no longer get the medical procedure. To ensure that, she is handcuffed to a bed in a dark basement, kept company by a caretaker, the maternal Du.

Throughout the play, Du and Pastor Walter do their best to convince Keely she’s better off being forced to carry the baby to term, though Keely repeatedly tells them she doesn’t want to keep the baby. Neither side will be persuaded otherwise.

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Keely (Maren Jystad-Spar) stares down Pastor Walter (Jeffrey Rondeau) in "Keely and Du."
Contributed / Scott Thuen

Director Jess Jung has said she hopes the play would be “a conversation builder,” but what’s left to say between two opposing viewpoints when it comes to abortion? Keely is forced to listen to a predictable line of anti-abortion propaganda from Du and Pastor Walter and she counters that it’s her body and her choice.

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At 30 years old, playwright Jane Martin's approach seems somewhat dated. Maybe in 1993 when it was first staged, trying to find common ground between two people of opposing views seemed noble, but in today’s world that ship has sailed. People on both sides are set in their views. Now, in the wake of #MeToo, elements like Walter’s mansplaining preaching to Keely is all the more cringe-inducing.

The two women do eventually bond a bit with Keely being sympathetic towards Du having lost one child, though she also has three sons that turn out to be a handful. Men in general are creators of chaos in this play, as the director of the operation is only known as "the man in charge."

Maren Jystad-Spar plays Keely with a mix of horrified confusion and fierceness, and in one scene you watch her toes curl in terror as she lives out this nightmare.

Lori Horvik is dotingly maternal as Du, eventually staying with Keely in her darkest hour. After playing a bigoted baker who refuses to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple in last year’s “The Cake,” Horvik, a Theatre B co-founder, is due for a more likable role.

How much understanding should the audience really expect from Keely? Should we expect her to turn the other cheek? Does she owe it to her captors to be compassionate to the people that keep her chained to a bed, locked away hundreds of miles from her cat and her ailing father? She’s rightfully filled with rage. When she spits in Walter’s face after one of his pious lectures, all she can do is laugh.

Keely’s pregnancy is not only unplanned but the result of a rape, and we learn the assailant was her obsessive ex-husband who has stalked her. This is perhaps where the play works most effectively, as a warning of domestic abuse and the all-too-real threat women face from even their partners.

While Keely’s graphic description of the attack shocks Du, it doesn’t keep Walter from inviting the ex-husband, Cole, to talk to Keely. We’ve seen enough news stories to know this won’t end well.

In a long dialogue, Cole, smartly played by Alex Kleven as a dope, insists that thanks to Walter he has found God and is a new man all while Keely rocks back and forth, terrified of what will come next. Cole’s gaslighting is frightening and while Walter — Jeff Rondeau channeling “The Simpsons” Rev. Lovejoy — smiles with self-congratulation, even Du seems concerned for what's coming next.

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No spoilers, but things get a lot darker.

Adding to the tension is a John Goering and Brian Lynch’s set and lighting design, delivering on the dark desolation of the basement. Sound designer Tucker Lucas amps up the eeriness pumping in the white noise to keep things on edge.

“Keely and Du” isn’t a play you will enjoy or be entertained by, though it is well-performed. It’s admirable for being topical and could spark some conversation, but ultimately it doesn’t answer its own big question: Why?

If you go

What: “Keely and Du”
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 30, Oct. 1, 6, 7 and 8 and 2 p.m. Oct. 2
Where: Theatre B
Info: Tickets range from $10 to $25

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