At the very beginning of Alison Leiby’s joke-filled solo show, which I saw a few days after the leak of the draft of a Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe vs. Wade, she told us that “Oh God, A Show About Abortion” would be the same show she was performing “before we lost all our rights.” My immediate reaction was: Why?
Why wouldn’t a show that’s supposed to be about abortion incorporate new material to mark what is the most significant development in the history of abortion in the United States in nearly half a century?
I soon realized that, despite the title, “Oh God, A Show About Abortion” isn’t exactly a show about abortion. It is largely a stand-up comedy routine. Leiby gives an account of the abortion she tells us she had three years ago, but a much larger share of the show are her comic takes on a range of subjects that in effect add up to what it’s like to be a woman in America:
She riffs on Barbie: “Barbie is the one who taught me to have a smile painted on my face no matter what is happening around me. She’s womanhood defined.”
She calculates the amount of time the average woman during her lifetime spends menstruating, which she determines is for a cumulative total of six years. “That is six years that you cannot talk about. Someone runs a marathon once. It takes four hours and they talk about it the rest of their lives.”
She tells a couple of anecdotes about how clueless men are, including one time when she was being prepped for back surgery, when three separate male doctors were stumped by a foreign object that appeared on an Xray of her lower abdomen – until a female nurse walked by and explained “It’s a tampon.”
She tells stories about her shopping habits, how she spent too much money on Gucci loafers and on a cactus plant, and how if she were pregnant, she would surely shop at an absurdly overpriced “luxury maternity wear store called Hatch.,” which is across the street from the Planned Parenthood in Soho. But she doesn’t want to be pregnant.
She talks extensively about how she has never wanted to be a mother, and how “the culture seems to pit women who are mothers against women who aren’t…”
Some of this is funny, some clever, some thought-provoking. The odd thing about “Oh, God, A Show About Abortion” for me is that the most disappointing moments in the monologue are when Leiby focuses on abortion. It’s the subject of the most unfunny jokes in the show, starting with the very first one: “I had an abortion three years ago. I’m still trying to lose the no baby weight.”
She talks for a minute or so about how she’s a “straight, white, cis woman with money in a liberal city,” and so her experiences with abortion are not the norm. But for someone who calls herself “an abortion rights activist for most of my adult life,” too many of her riffs seem to revel in her personal bubble. They feel ill-timed, considering what’s just happened. They seem glib; I fear they’re counterproductive.
To be fair, I suppose I had unrealistic expectations that Leiby’s show could provide a kind of emotional shelter against the Supreme battering. She’s a comedian. Her aim is to be funny. And perhaps some of the other theatergoers saw both her show and their attendance at it as an act of defiance, their laughter and applause signaling their membership in the Resistance.
Oh God, A Show About Abortion
Cherry Lane Theater through June 4
Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission
Written and performed by Alison Leiby
Directed by Lila Neugebauer
Lighting design by Amina Alexander, sound design by Margaret Montagna.