Host: Sriya Sarkar
Reviewer: Jamie Rosler
It’s not easy to get people to attend a stand-up comedy and storytelling show about abortion. One would be forgiven for thinking it’s not easy to get people to laugh at a stand-up comedy and storytelling show about abortion, once they get there. Speakout Laughout, as part of the Cinder Block Comedy Festival, does a much better job of the latter than the former, which is more unfortunate for those that didn’t attend than those who did. The small audience, treated to a handful of stories that are simultaneously personal, political, emotional, and yes, funny, hopefully leaves the venue with a deeper understanding of the myriad situations that result in making the choice to have an abortion, and more compassion for those that have to make it.
One at a time, a handful of women and one man regale us with their stories from different times, places, and points of view. The sole constants are a lack of personal regret at having had the procedure, and an appreciation for the ability to stand up and speak out about it, telling tales that so often go untold and undercounted. More than performer tells their story out loud for the first time, such as Joanna Briley who was 16 at the time of her abortion and is over 40 now. Rhonda Hansome talks about having to skirt the law and being lucky enough to find relatively safe access to an illegal medical procedure, pre-Roe v. Wade. Nina Manni was already in her 30s, sitting in a waiting room filled with 20-somethings, who didn’t understand that she simply does not want to be a mother. Gastor Almonte, the “token man” in the show, tells someone else’s abortion story, in which he serves as communicative middleman between his friend and that friend’s impregnated girlfriend. He also unironically defines feminism to a room filled primarily with female feminists. One wonders how difficult it is to find a male stand-up comedian or storyteller who has and is willing to share his own abortion story with a compassionate viewpoint.
Sriya Sarkar hosts, and tells her own story between introducing guests. She, perhaps more than anyone else, touches upon the role cultural and familial expectations have in building young women’s lives. Hosting is not her strongest skill, but her charm and earnestness in storytelling, in conjunction with a well-curated line-up, more than make up for any minor flaws that simply need more time and practice to hone.
Running the gamut from heartbreaking to hysterical, Speakout Laughout is ultimately an uplifting and humanizing collection of personal tales about a topic that we should all be much more comfortable talking about.
Reviewed on 10 September 2017