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One-Woman Show Explores Female 'Bodily Autonomy' Through Tragic Tale

Players' Ring Theatre

The one-woman show, "Mary and Me" tells a version of a real-life story: that of Ann Lovett, a 15-year-old Irish girl who died during childbirth in 1984 beneath a statue of the Virgin Mary. Her baby also died. The story drew acclaim when it was first performed in Ireland three years ago and now, for the first time, it's coming to the United States. 

Emily Karel, who stars in the production that opens Friday at the Players Ring Theater in Portsmouth, talked with All Things Considered host Peter Biello about the play.

(What follows is a lightly-edited transcript.)

Peter Biello: So, if you could tell us first a little bit about Ann Lovett, the girl at the center of this play: Who was she and what happened to her?

Emily Karel: Sure. So, Anne lived in rural Ireland. She was a 15-year-old high school student who went to a Catholic high school. In 1984, she became pregnant and she had no one to turn to to help her work through options. She didn't see that she had any options. Her town was governed by a very strict religious code and moral code, so she kept her pregnancy a secret. And then shortly after Christmas, in January of 1984, Anne visited a Magdalene Grotto in her town. She brought with her scissors that she had taken from her home. She gave birth in the grotto on a cold, rainy day to a baby that was unfortunately stillborn, a baby boy. And she tragically died from blood loss and exposure.

Biello: Irene Kelaher wrote the play. It debuted three years ago. And the main character of the play is not Ann Lovett. It it's a character named Hanna. How different is Hanna from the real life person she's based on?

Karel: So I think Hanna is pretty different. There isn't a lot known about Ann Lovett's home life. Irene Kelaher created the character of Hanna, who is loosely based on Ann so that she could essentially fill in the gaps that are still existing in Ann's story. Irene was primarily interested in what led Ann to go to this grotto to give birth.

Biello: Why do you think it's important to tell this story now, the story of a 15-year-old dying during childbirth. Why is that important now?

Karel: We have reached an important turning point in our history as a country. The recent passing, I think, of Justice Ginsburg has highlighted this. Despite the MeToo movement, there are still a lot of debate, a lot of back and forth, about the issue of female bodily autonomy and whether women should essentially have agency over their own bodies. And there is a strong push to repeal laws that would protect women's rights to control their own bodies. So I think in the United States, we're at this point where we are on this precipice, where we could either continue in the direction that will allow people to have agency over their own bodies or we can take a few steps back. And I think that the story is an important reminder of the consequences of living in a time where women and girls didn't feel that they had options.

Biello: So what do you think this play can add to that conversation about bodily autonomy and abortion here in New Hampshire? 

Karel: I think one of the really nice things about this play is that I don't believe it comes across as heavy handed or preachy at all. I think no matter where you stand on the issue of female bodily autonomy, you can see this play, experience what this young girl experiences. I'm not necessarily looking to change anyone's mind, but I am looking to foster conversations and provoke thought.

Mary and Me opens at the Players Ring Theater in Portsmouth runs through October 18. Social distancing measures will be in place and there is a view-at-home option. The play also runs at the Hatbox Theater in Concord, November 13-22.

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