When I told people I was going to see a “musical comedy about abortion,” I was met with a decent amount of groans. And honestly, fair enough. It’s been a long, hard year of devastating abortion news—what relief could an abortion musical comedy, no matter how funny or poignant it’s meant to be, possibly provide the weary? A lot, it turns out.
“If she had a dirty dipey would you clean it?” asks an adult-sized fetus in a skintight, flesh-colored bodysuit—veins winding and bulging beneath the surface—about 20 minutes into the show. “Even if it were so, so dirty and poopy nasty and you had to get in the creases?” This is the type of chaotic toeing of the line you can expect throughout The Appointment—all of which is delivered via a demonic cast of fetuses.
“Feed us! Fetus!” the cast screams out in the opening number like a bunch of wacko Teletubbies forming a militant pro-life ensemble. If you went into the show low on energy, this opening guarantees to pep you up, if not put you on full alert. Luckily, the intensity of the fetus mob eventually relinquishes. But the fetuses (feti?) reappear throughout the musical, which, in the beginning, feels like a sketch or variety show, but becomes more obnoxious and in-your-face as the show progresses.
“She’s as helpless as a barbie doll in the middle of the swimming pool,” a fetus portrayed by Brett Ashley Robinson says of her fellow-fetus friend. The scene devolves into the fetuses finding an audience member to be their “daddy” and protect them, only to then ask the appointed daddy how hot they are and if he’d fuck them. Naturally. The scene—played for discomfort and laughs—hastily grabs at the keywords and feelings within the nonsensical (though widely adopted) right-wing, patriarchal conversations around abortion. Protectors. Daddies. Helpless. Fucking. But before you can fully parse out the satire, or think too hard about what you’ve just seen, it’s onto the next number.
Throughout the 90 minutes, you’re confronted with humping fetuses; a fetus turned talking turkey; a new-age Christian youth pastor with a creepazoid mustache singing about the perils of abortion; and a medieval-like medical hook yanking humping fetuses off stage, to name just a handful of the gags and spectacles thrown into this cacophonous blender. But to use a phrase on par with the abrasiveness of much of the show: It was a sexy fetus smoothie.
“What exactly am I laughing at?” I found myself wondering a few times throughout, especially during a scene where a fetus, played by Jaime Maseda in full clown, fumbles around the stage and falls into the band setup while singing, “I never learned to walk/I never learned to run...But I learned how to love.” It then poorly plays the piano before kick-lining alongside the giant, be-hatted medical hook.
But at other times, the parody is crystal clear. One of the standout numbers featured three male medical staff members at an abortion clinic belting out fake emotional anecdotes from women who’ve regretted their abortions. It’s not lost on the audience how hypocritically comical it is to have them bemoaning, “What have I done?/Motherhood’s ended/Misery’s begun.” But to the show’s benefit, the deranged singing fetuses that leave you scratching your head are just as enjoyable as the scenes with straightforward satire.
Mirroring all the frenzied fetus numbers are a handful of quieter scenes, played real, set in an abortion clinic. During these scenes, Louise Peterson (Alice Yorke), born 7/24/89 (which we learn many times), is waiting to get an abortion. In contrast to the hyper-restless song and dance numbers, we watch Louise silently dress and undress from her medical robe before a kind nurse (Danny Wilfred) takes her temperature and blood pressure. At the beginning of the show, a patient Dr. Parsons (Scott Sheppard) apologetically lists off the state-mandated misinformation about regret and physical risks associated with abortions. But, by the end of the show, a different version of this scene plays out. “In my experience,” Dr. Parsons course-corrects, “many women have a sense of relief, a confidence, and happiness knowing that they have made the right decision for themselves and their families.” These scenes felt like steady breaths, just like the ones Dr. Parsons tells Louise to take as he performs her abortion in the final scene.
But it’s one song that tied it all together for me. “Tuesday Song,” sung together by the women in the abortion clinic, pauses the parody with its anthemic beat, almost reminiscent of Liz Phair’s “Fuck and Run.” “I don’t feel confused. And I don’t feel lazy/I don’t feel regret. And I don’t feel fucking dumb,” the women sing. “And the world keeps screaming. And it just keeps screaming/screaming/screaming.” Everything slows down, and we’re left to witness, not the rage, but the exhaustion from the rage. That distinction resonated.
The Appointment, which originally premiered in 2019, is now enjoying its second run—but I walked into the theater skeptical of what a pre-Dobbs v. Jackson show could provide to meet the 2023 moment. Ultimately, its refusal to be a clear polemic on behalf of the pro-abortion movement abetted its strength. I don’t need a show to tell me how to feel about abortion rights in the U.S. I already know how I feel. Defeated. Righteous. Angry. Instead, I enjoyed what it did offer: a massively cathartic release of all those feelings.
‘The Appointment’ is playing at the WP Theater in Manhattan until February 4, 2023.