Huntington’s Latest Offering A Thought-Provoking ‘Choice’ (5 Stars)

‘Choice’ – Written by Winnie Holzman; Directed by Sheryl Kaller; Scenic Design by James Noone; Costume Design by Mariann Verheyen; Lighting Design by Rui Rita; Sound Design by Leon Rothenberg.  Presented by The Huntington Theatre Company at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St., Boston through November 15.

“Choice”, the world premiere of Winnie Holzman’s new play now being presented at the BCA by The Huntington Theatre Company, is ostensibly about a woman’s right to choose, but by the evening’s end it becomes abundantly clear that it is about so much more. Billed as a comedy (and it is certainly laugh-out-loud funny at times), this brilliantly written and executed work takes on much larger matters, including the possibility that all things in the universe are somehow connected. The play also asks us to think about how we respond when circumstances dictate that our mostly deeply help assumptions are challenged, and whether we should hold onto things that we suspect may not be true just to maintain some sense of order in our lives.
Zipporah “Zippy” Zunder, a journalist in her late 40’s, is writing a piece for Vanity Fair on a new phenomenon: “Children Lost and Found” or CLF, where the souls of aborted fetuses – in the form of young adults born nine months and 49 days after the abortion took place – are allegedly reconnecting with the women who terminated the pregnancy (which is far less creepy than it sounds). A famous female movie director is the public face of this movement, and a skeptical Zippy is assigned to interview her for the piece.

As the play opens, we get a glimpse into Zippy’s life as a dinner party with her husband Clark, best friend Erica and boyfriend Mark is winding down. The two couples are soon joined by Zippy and Clark’s grossly unmotivated recent college graduate daughter Zoe, and the group begins to discuss both the subject of Zippy’s impending article as well as a side story about Zippy being terrified by a cat (or something) that kept scratching at the door before wreaking havoc in the house. Her friend Erica appears to be a fun-loving but malcontented writing professor – something we glean when she tells Zippy, “Last night I couldn’t sleep, so I made a list of everything about Mark that disgusts me.” We also learn that Zippy has hired Hunter, Erica’s very peculiar student, to be her assistant (and who may or may not end up being a person of significance to Zippy). Erica (who’s a bit controlling) insists that she fire him, and while Zippy agrees to do so immediately, she never quite gets around to it, thus opening the door for later plot developments.

Zippy’s husband Clark, a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, is 30 years her senior and could easily pass for her father. He is also hard of hearing, and when he responds to questions with answers based on him not understanding the questions, it appears to be a simple comic device played for a few cheap (but clever) laughs. As the play goes on, however, we see that every verbal mistake or malaprop by any of the characters is in place for a reason, consistent with play’s theme that we live in a universe where there are no mistakes. So when Zippy is feeling unnerved by the boyish Hunter, she tries to tell Clark that she feels like she should “feed” him, but (tellingly) uses the word “fear” instead. The first half of the play works well as an intriguing comedy, but in no way prepares us for the mystical twists and turns of Act II.

In spite of its weighty subject matter(s), this is a very funny play, with more comic callbacks than the full catalog of Monty Python BBC shows. Holzman (who wrote the book for “Wicked” and created the television series “My So-Called Life”) skillfully manages to connect everything together, as innocuous sounding comments from Act I show up again in Act II, either demonstrating a point or connecting yet another piece of the cosmic puzzle.
The leads are very good, with Johanna Day (as the increasingly vulnerable Zippy) and Connie Ray (as her pragmatic but spiritually lacking friend) delivering convincing performances. The supporting cast is equally effective as Madeline Wise (pulling triple duty as Zoe, the movie director’s CLF and a women’s health clinic worker) and Ken Cheeseman (as Erica’s boyfriend Mark, but also a riot as Zippy’s stroke victim ex-boyfriend) deliver standout performances. James Noone’s set is also a star of sorts, with set changes minimized courtesy of a retractable brick wall that reveals the second floor bedrooms of Zoe and her parents. It’s really a neat trick.

One final note, if you’re hesitant to see this because of the subject matter, don’t let it stop you. This play does not take a stand on women’s reproductive rights one way or another, and that plot line only serves as a setup device for larger questions in the universe. If you do decide to skip it on those grounds, you’ll be cheating yourself out of one of the best new works of 2015. For more info, go to: