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(From Left) Matt Marceau, Emily Auwaerter, and Casiha Felt read their parts in "What Ever Happened to Baby Abby" while Emily Prince (far right) directs at Arts West on Sunday, March 25, 2012.

Soul searching inspires latest ARTS/West play

Sunday, ARTS/West presented a reading of a play, Whatever Happened to Baby Abby? by Merri Biechler, a member of ARTS/West and other local companies.

The play, which was featured in the company’s Humble Play Reading Series, focuses on a woman named Abigail Walters, who finds out she was dropped in a well 25 years earlier and was saved. The discovery prompts some soul searching and life decisions, Biechler said.

“To her horror she realizes that she's done nothing with her life to justify her being saved," Biechler said. “She’s trying to define her life as meaningful and her job choice as successful.

While the story described in the play is purely fiction, Biechler said she was inspired by past events.

“I remember vividly Baby Jessica being pulled from the well back in the 1987,” Biechler said. “I wondered what it would be like for a young woman to not know she was that famous baby and feel like her life hadn’t lived up to the hype of her rescue as a two-year old.”

The show was presented as a script-in-hand reading with actors seated in “strategic positions” to show their roles in the play. Director Emily Prince read the stage directions aloud, providing what Prince described as a different feel than a full stage production.

“When directing a reading you are working more closely with the playwright,” Prince said. “The point is to tell the story of the play using only the playwright’s words and the actors’ interpretations of those words.”

One of the differences between a full-stage play and a reading is that some actors may play multiple characters. Karen Chan, an actor with the company, portrayed four supporting characters in the show, including Abigail’s fame hungry psychologist, Dr. Sue, and her grandmother, June.

“My favorite character is Dr. Sue, who loses control of her senses for her 15 minutes of fame at the expense of anyone who gets in her way,“ Chan said. “She rolls over Abigail like a Mac Truck in order to exploit and mine the riches of being a celebrity.”

Because the show was featured earlier in the Humble Play Readings, Prince said that audiences might have noticed changes.

“Audiences who have heard the play will hear a new draft and see how their feedback helped inform the development of the play,” Prince said.  “If people are coming to hear this play for the first time they will love the characters, the story and the playwright.”

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