by Jenni Morin
BIRTH is the Vagina Monologues of birthing. There is an overarching theme of women empowerment, a lot of talk about vaginas and variations on the word, and a symphony of moaning. However, Karen Brody's BIRTH offers a more intimate invitation into the world of a woman and one of the most identifying moments of the female experience. For those who have given birth, or anyone considering it, BOLD San Antonio's production is an education complete with first hand accounts of the realities, fears and joys. There's an emphasis on doulas and midwives and the misconceptions about them and the more socially accepted obstetricians, along with C-sections, VBACs, epidurals and episiotomies. While the script is much less graphic than the subject might suggest, there are plenty of painfully descriptive moments.
Birth on Labor Day (BOLD) was started by BIRTH playwright Karen Brody in 2006 to bring awareness through the arts about women-centered birthing choices and support of women's choices in childbirth. BOLDSA is a grassroots coalition inspired by this movement to mount a production of BIRTH in San Antonio, which is produced by Suzanne de Leon, founder of San Antonio Birth Doulas (SABD) and executive director of Guadalupe Homes. Proceeds from the production go to SABD, a program of Catholic Charities, which provides free or reduced fee doula services to pregnant teen mothers and low-income mothers. Giving birth may be just one day--if you're lucky--but this production offers three days to experience and discuss birth with talk-back sessions after each performance.
The script focuses on eight American women, who are educated with low-risk pregnancies, and all the many influences that go into deciding how to give birth and the pressure from medical professionals to go for the safe and easy route despite warnings and instincts from their own bodies. In the end, it's about a woman's right to choose and follow her birth plan and come out the other side with a healthy baby and a happy mother. Director Jan Olsen pulls her cast of seasoned and novice actors and doulas together to present each story effectively. By the second act, the stiffness and nerves have lessened with each mention of vaginal birth and the real life experience of these doulas shines through. The narrow spotlights, unfortunately, kept half the cast in the dark, leaving many of the cameo husband appearances out of the picture when the script calls to include them. Hearts race during particularly dramatic birthing scenes, but jump with deafening sound effects instead of joy. The transitions lacked finesse, but were tidy for the most part. The few occasions for audience participation welcomed the audience back, offering a much appreciated opportunity for re-engagement.
While this production is a great occasion to bond with women, men who have eluded fatherhood may not be so appreciative of the triumphant moaning and gory details. The varied points of view and insistence on women's choice is refreshing and the cast handles the material with grace, maturity and respect. They shed light on the reality of the miracle of childbirth and how the mother should not be left out of consideration during the birthing process. BOLDSA's message is loud and clear and brings attention to an issue that directly effects the futures of not only the individuals experiencing the birth, but society in general.
BIRTH plays at the Sterling Houston Theater at Jump-Start in the Blue Star Art Complex March 8-10 with performances at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.boldsanantonio.org.