In Ann and Me: or The Big Bad Abortion Play, Jessica Bashline presents a thoroughly researched history of abortion in the United States. Bashline takes the stage in her “protest outfit” (her t-shirt reads Abort the Patriarchy), chanting slogans from a reproductive rights march. Bashline is fiercely and personally invested in the current fight for reproductive rights in the U.S. In this play, she brings undeniable evidence that the history of legislating reproduction is based on financial and political control and men’s desire to maintain dominance over women’s health and healthcare providers.
Although the title of Bashline’s play may feel inflammatory to some, her delivery is thoughtful and empathetic. When she presents historical testimony from the 1845 trial of Ann Lohman, an abortion provider from New York, in which the male attorneys were incredibly invasive and aggressive to the female witnesses, Bashline remains calm. She generally avoids hyperbole and lets the men’s words speak for themselves. This, after all, is the only way women throughout history have been able to begin to speak up for themselves: in a calm and rational manner that could in no way be construed and emotional and therefore disregarded.
The play is also very funny at times. Bashline uses a segment called the Big Bad Abortion Game Show to ask the audience trivia questions. The segment is funny and provides information not everyone might know in a way that feels exciting and builds a sense of community in the audience. Bonded by the off-the-wall merriment, the audience is set to face some of the more disturbing material the play ventures into.
Bashline doesn’t hold back the facts, even when they are disturbing, because she wants her audience to feel and identify. Her message is that “everything is about shame” and how powerful a tool shame has been and continues to be in the attempt to take away women’s power over their bodies. In addition to the research behind it, Bashline’s play has another component many recent plays about abortion do not have: a personal call to action. Bashline admits up front that she is “a middle-aged, middle-income, mostly average white lady” and that she is reporting her story from that perspective, but she talks about intersectionality and how the dominant culture in the U.S. seeks to oppress everyone outside of their group. She points out that anyone who isn’t actively resisting their efforts is complicit. So, what can we do? “Call someone in Florida,” Bashline jokes, but what she means is, if each marginalized person in our country told their very true and very personal story of shame and oppression to one other person, we might begin to stem the power of shame and turn the tide toward demanding respect for the truth in our politics.
"Ann and Me: or The Big Bad Abortion Play"
Written and performed by Jessica Bashline
Directed by Margaret M. Ledford
March 15, 2023
The Spring 2023 United Solo Festival
March 7th - March 26th, 2023
410 West 42nd (btw 9th and 10th Avenue)
STEPHANIE EAGAN is a professional writer based in NJ. A fan of every type of live performance imaginable, from taiko drumming to political performance art, she travels the tri-state area and beyond in search of music, art, theater, and excellent coffee.