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We all have crappy days every now and then – or crappy weeks, crappy months or even a crappy year. That’s just a part of life, and most of us begrudgingly accept it and work through it. But not Gina, a bitter 18-year-old with misplaced anger issues, who believes her life is not worth living – and never was. So after learning her mother once contemplated aborting her – but changed her mind after speaking with her doctor – Gina files a “wrongful life” lawsuit against the general practitioner, claiming “My life was a mistake” and “I never wanted to be alive.”
No one chooses to be born, of course. But what would happen if unhappy people were allowed unfettered access to the judicial system to seek revenge upon the people who brought them into the world?
It’s an absurd concept, to be sure. But not an impossible one, given that our national pastime has switched from baseball to blaming everyone but ourselves for our troubles. And when you add to the mix a trial lawyer who is more interested in a cash settlement than the truth, the result is “Wrongful Life,” a dark, yet very thought-provoking comedy – or is it really a tragedy? – by Ron Elisha that had its United States premiere this past weekend at the Detroit Repertory Theatre.
A general practitioner himself, the Australian playwright fills his often very funny script with layer upon layer of unexpected twists and turns. Ultimately, however, the question he asks is a timely one: Which is more immoral: abortion, or knowingly and purposely destroying the life and career of a living, breathing human being for the possibility of a few million dollars?
It’s a thoroughly engaging philosophical battle that Elisha offers, one that had the audience eagerly debating its merits during intermission this past Friday night. In the capable hands of director/set designer Harry Wetzel, however, it becomes a fascinating psychological boxing match in which the winner and loser changes with each blow delivered by his all-female cast. (They duke it out on a very creative set that suggests a boxing ring. And to further drive the point home, the cast shakes hands in the play’s opening seconds, and a bell chimes at the end to announce the champ.)
Stepping into the ring are four newcomers to the Rep and one familiar face.
Robyn Lipnicki, who is somewhat too one-note early on as the whiny and obnoxious Gina, finds depth to the character when, first, she discovers a reason to live, and, later, struggles with the temptation to do something she knows is morally wrong.
As the besieged doctor, Karon Kron fills Selina with the appropriate amount of righteous indignation, and she has a gut-wrenching moment when the opposing teams finally have their face-to-face.
Meanwhile, Sandra Love Aldridge has great fun as Hilary, the morally and financially bankrupt attorney for the plaintiff.
Lisa McCormick, however, has the least developed and least interesting character to play – Liz, the defendant’s lawyer – and it shows.
But it’s Stephanie Nichols who storms the stage and throws the best right hooks as Eve, Gina’s side-flipping mother. It’s a tasty role, deliciously played.
Just one general note to the actresses, however: The audience can’t hear you when they’re laughing, so you might want to pause during the funny moments until the chuckles die down. (Some very important lines got lost on Friday night.)
Detroit Repertory Theatre, 13103 Woodrow Wilson, Detroit. Thursday-Sunday, through May 20. Tickets: $17-$20. For information: (313) 868-1347 or http://www.detroitreptheatre.com