Playwright Rachel Bublitz

In her new play Funny, Like an Abortion, playwright Rachel Bublitz is tackling a topic so in flux that she puts index cards in the hands of actors to convey the twists of current events. The two-character activist comedy (my term) is already twisty as it tells the story of a comically caffeinated pregnant woman throwing herself a party during which she’ll choose a method to terminate her pregnancy at home. It happens in an America where even saying the word “abortion” is illegal.

“The end section, on notecards, has changed, and will continue to change as laws shift around the country,” Bublitz told me.

The script is getting three productions in the 2023-24 season as a Rolling World Premiere by the National New Play Network: Following a fall 2023 run by Mile Square Theatre in Hoboken, New Jersey, next up is a separate production by Cleveland Public Theatre April 25-May 11, and then a new staging at The VORTEX in Austin Sept. 21-Oct. 12.

Beyond that, Theatre Unchained and American Lives Theatre will present it at the Indy Fringe in Indianapolis Nov. 8-24, 2024.

Here’s how Funny, Like an Abortion is billed: “Monroe finds herself knocked up, and since abortions are illegal in the United States, she throws a surprise abortion party with her best friend Jade. Monroe prepares over twenty at-home abortion options for them to sort through, neither will walk away until they select the best of all of these terrible options. But that’s not all! Come on down for juggling, a tap dancing number, and a horrific view at what our future may hold. A comedic two-hander in one scene.”

I previously interviewed Rachel about her award-winning play Ripped, and she was game to field some of my questions about Funny, Like an Abortion, which is harrowing, hilarious, punchy, political, angry and full of grace. And it includes juggling.

I usually ask playwrights about what inspired their new play, but it’s not difficult to guess that the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade helped spark Funny, Like an Abortion. Is that the case here, or were the seeds of the play locked in your files somewhere?

Rachel Bublitz: Funny story! I started this play in 2019! And actually Funny, Like An Abortion was having a developmental production in San Francisco with PlayGround when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. It was such a gut punch. The end of the play gets updated as things are shifting, and wow is it depressing to update it! Things have gotten so much worse since 2019.

Joy Donze in “Funny, Like an Abortion” at Mile Square Theater in Hoboken in 2023. (Photo by David White Studio NYC)

Your play is a wacky meta comedy with a deadly serious message. It’s dark, devastating, delightful, angry. The activism is overt in the script. Did you know from the beginning that this would be both a comedy and a call to arms?

Rachel Bublitz: I started the play initially because I’d never written a two-hander comedy before, and I wanted to try it out. So, right from the gate I knew I wanted it to be comedic. The call to arms wasn’t as on purpose, that sort of just happened as I was writing.

When I was writing, I had a lot of second guessing, thinking I was taking things too far. This play demands that, and I think the biggest challenge was letting go and letting that happen. The “wacky” and clowning just happened; a lot of this play just evolved naturally. I found myself upping the wacky as I worked through drafts, the Peewee Herman couch was something I put in after the first draft, as it became clear what kind of play it wanted to be.

Abortion legislation and challenges to blocked access to abortion seem to be in the news daily. At the end of the play, there is space to remind audiences of that, with new material inserted. This must keep you on your toes as a librarian of sorts. Did the script change during the New Jersey run, with inserted info?

Rachel Bublitz: We did have an insert during the run at Mile Square! Ohio had just voted to add reproduction healthcare rights to its state constitution, and I added that during closing weekend. That section is on notecards, so I hope those additions aren’t too stressful for actors! Editing that section in between readings and productions has been mostly very sad as the laws are mostly becoming more restrictive, even though people keep voting to keep access available. Right now I’m on the lookout to see when the Supreme Court makes an official call about mifepristone, in case that needs to be added in as well. For the foreseeable future, I imagine I will be adding/changing that section with each production.

Your play isn’t quite “Handmaid’s Tale” period, but it’s halfway there. A police state exists. It may feel absurd to some, but to me it feels like…tomorrow. Can you share a little bit about the world/period you set the play in?

Rachel Bublitz: I wanted it to feel as much like today as possible. That feels more frightening to me, something that’s almost this world, but has significantly more restrictions and monitoring. I think finding the right balance was a challenge, learning how much information was needed to paint a picture, without getting lost in too many details.

Pearl Rhein, left, and Joy Donze in “Funny, Like an Abortion” in New Jersey. (Photo by David White Studio NYC)

You need a delicious over-the-top actress to play Monroe. What sort of casting breakdown advice have you given the NNPN directors when casting Monroe?

Rachel Bublitz: I am so brief in my character descriptions right now! Literally: “Monroe, she/her, mid-twenties. Makes bad jokes. Can juggle quite well.” I know that I am asking a lot from both of the actors in the play, and the most from the actor who takes on Monroe. I am working on some advice in the script if future actors aren’t able to juggle, or tap dance. The script works quite well when Monroe is bad at both of those things, actually. There is a need for the actor playing Monroe to be extremely brazen, however. Her imagination is wild, her sense of humor is bleak, and she doesn’t do anything halfway. Might be an addition for the character description!

I love the complexity of Monroe. She doesn’t want to bring a child into the world, yet her profession — she’s a teacher — and life sacrifices are all about children. Can you talk a little bit about that? About who she is. Was she always a teacher, in your mind?

Rachel Bublitz: She’s always been a teacher. I think when we imagine someone who doesn’t want children we often think of someone who hates kids; that’s just not always the case. I love complex characters and wanted to put a child-loving person at the center of this story about abortion to explore that.

Do you view the play as a call to action?

Rachel Bublitz: It’s absolutely a call to action, but in addition to that, I want to give people space to laugh and cry and yell about what’s happening in this country. It’s maddening, and I think we tend to deal with so much of it internally. So yes, I want people to be aware and to protest and help in any way that they are able to protect reproductive rights, but I also want to give them back some much needed catharsis. It’s draining, having all these rights taken away. Let’s laugh about it a little bit together, and then we can go out and try to do something about it.

Are there other plays of yours that involve activism in such an overt way? 

Rachel Bublitz: I have a couple of other ones, though none as explicit as this one. Ripped, published with Original Works Publishing, deals with consent and the gray areas of sexual assault. The other is Burst, an environmental play in the process of being published with Dramatic Publishing, and is receiving its second production this spring with Relative Theatrics in Laramie, Wyoming.

What are you working on next?

Rachel Bublitz: I am running with the wacky and absurd, and tinkering with a new play called Tip Top Triangle, which tangles mid-level marketing schemes with traditional female roles and pickleball.

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Rachel Bublitz is an internationally produced playwright known for telling stories about women and creating exciting new work for young performers. She won the Will Glickman Award for Best Premiere Play in the San Francisco Bay Area for Ripped (World Premiere at Z Space). Other plays include: Burst (World Premiere at Alleyway Theatre, developed at The Road Theatre Company), Of Serpents & Sea Spray (World Premiere at Custom Made Theatre), My Body (produced at Barrington Stage Company, developed at the Samuel French Off-Off-Broadway Festival), and Let’s Fix Andy (developed at Salt Lake Acting Company). Rachel has published plays with Playscripts (Biz Town), Dramatic Publishing (The Night Witches), Original Works Publishing (Ripped), Stage Partners (The Book Women), and YouthPLAYS (The Summer I Howled). Rachel resides in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her family. When she isn’t writing she’s most likely to be watching her kids dominate at water polo. Learn more at RachelBublitz.com.

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Paige Conway directs Andrea de la Fuente and Maggie Adler in the Cleveland production of Funny, Like an Abortion. The Cleveland Public team includes stage manager Yesenia Real, scenic designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski, lighting designer Libby Zamiska, costume designer Amanda Rowe-Van Allen, sound designer Angie Hayes, props designer Lisa L. Wiley.