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"Keely & Du' puts faces on both sides of abortion issue

The battle over abortion rights is a war of absolutes. Each side is convinced that its mission is to guard the sanctity of life. The public debate that has raged around the issue for 20-plus years has not led to anything approaching a resolution. Instead, the conflict seems to be intensifying.

Keely & Du, a new play by the pseudononymous Jane Martin (author of Talking With) being staged by Tampa Players, counters that trend by bringing the issues surrounding abortion into focus. It does so by showing that the whole debate has a horrible and riveting and very human face.

The play brings together a pregnant woman and a fanatical anti-abortion group determined that she will have the baby. In this situation, there is the opportunity for every argument for and against to have full airing.

Keely (Alma Adams) awakens in a strange room staring into the face of a woman she doesn't know and discovers she is handcuffed to a bed that is bolted to the floor. She has been kidnapped by a religious group called Operation Retrieval that believes abortion is murder and plans to hold her hostage until an abortion is out of the question.

Du (Carol Belt) is a registered nurse and ardent right-to-life advocate who is doing God's work by taking care of Keely during her pregnancy and imprisonment.

Keely became pregnant as the result of being raped by her ex-husband Cole (Richard Dipietra), and no pictures of fetuses or fetal heartbeats are going to convince her that she should keep the child. She certainly doesn't respond to the sanctimonious arguments offered by Walter (Jim Wicker), a right-to-life activist who visits regularly.

The play moves beyond the abortion debate and warms up considerably as a friendship develops between Keely and Du. The women understand each other, if only because they share a common biological dilemma. Du takes a grandmotherly interest in Keely and seems to admire her pluck. It seemed that Belt only became comfortable in the role of Du when the relationship between the two woman develops. Until then, she seemed ill at ease in the part.

Adams has to deliver most of her lines at a fevered pitch because Keely is in a holy rage for most of the play. She is a hardboiled girl whose sense of self has been battered by men all her life. Although Keely is emotionally shut down, bitter and angry, Adams makes her sympathetic. That is a difficult feat.

Keely & Du, which was directed by Bill Lelbach, doesn't offer easy answers. Keely's right to make choices about who she is has long been thwarted by others. Her need to have control over her life and her body is a desperate need to have a self. However, as she is locked to the bed, the baby growing inside her will become a separate life if she is unable to get an abortion.

Though the play doesn't end up championing one side or the other of the abortion debate, it is in the friendship and mutual respect shown by Keely and Du that we sense something sacred about life.


Keely & Du

Jane Martin's play continues through March 13 at the Tampa Players theater on Harbour Island. Tickets are $13-$17. Call 221-8587.