On the fifth floor of a city hotel, there is a pool. By the pool is an actor in a red swimsuit. We sit by the water, dip our feet. It is such a simple idea – a play in a pool – though it feels luxurious and a truly innovative use of inactive space. It is in this casual nature that the conversation begins, one you might have while swimming together and letting your bodies float and flop around.
South-Australian playwright Emily Steel performed this show herself until this year. With that thought in mind, we watch an actor (Tiffany Lyndall Knight: luminous, warm and generous) play Emily and imagine how much more gut-wrenching it would have been to see the story first-hand. But, actually, this play isn’t trying to wrench anyone’s guts – it even advertises itself as “not self-righteous or guilt-ridden” – and that is an important approach to a subject matter like late-term abortion. Emily aborted a baby after it was given a high chance of having Down’s Syndrome. This fact comes very early, it’s refreshing when the topic is brought out onto the table and not dropped like a sentimental bomb.
This play takes all the right turns away from cliche and is medically and emotionally educational without pretending it knows everything. Emily didn’t know everything, also didn’t know how many of her friends and relatives would respond to this event with complex stories of their own.
19 Weeks brings support to the concept of “my body my choice” by showing that every path to abortion is unique and all choices are difficult ones. If the decision is yes, the access must be there. Emily wonders about the “what-ifs” but maintains, in a moment reflective of the general brilliance in the writing throughout, “the me in the past wanted this for me, and I have to trust her decision. Wondering is not the same as regret.”