Reading Resolution: “The Billboard” by Natalie Y. Moore

15. A play: The Billboard by Natalie Y. Moore

List Progress: 19/30

Abortion is healthcare and should be a human right. And when abortion is restricted, it disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable populations: people of color, queer people, and disabled people. The Billboard, a new play by Chicago reporter Natalie Y. Moore, takes place at a Black women’s health clinic that gets yanked into local politics when an aspiring rabble-rouser politician puts up an inflammatory billboard in the majority-black neighborhood of Englewood. Based on a real event that Moore reported on in 2018, the billboard decries that “the most dangerous place for a Black baby is inside a Black woman’s womb”, positioning abortion as a sort of genocide and placing the blame fully at Black women’s feet. The clinic puts up its own billboard, reminding people that “Abortion is self-care”, and the debate is on, with people all across the country weighing in with every opinion under the sun. The Billboard captures a debate that continues to rage (and just got much harder) from a perspective that is not often represented in the media. The delivery of this story is not the most artful, but the content is powerful.

The Billboard seeks to capture a broad range of Black experiences with a small cast. The director of the clinic, Tanya, gets involved in the political debate to the detriment of her direct work with her patients, while lesbian board member Dawn cautious restraint. Young intern Kayla navigates the online aspect, and incumbent city councilor Sherry just wants to get through this unusually-difficult election, supporting and dropping the clinic as benefits her most at the moment. Then there is Demetrius: a craven, slimy conservative, railing against gentrification and white encroachment while being funded by white conservative groups, and willing to make a small city election into a firestorm if it will get him more attention. Demetrius is unfortunately realistic for the anti-choice voices of today, but for a fictional play, he could have used more nuance, especially given that he has a personal history with Tanya.

While stageplays are never going to read as well as they perform, even in text form it is clear that the dialogue is a little wooden. It often feels like characters are making big speeches about the nature of their work, to others that they work with on a daily basis, and that at some point their roles should have become more lived-in. But an actor with the right amount of warmth could bring the script around. The play actually has a performance run opening this week in 16th Street Theater in Chicago, and checking it out in-person or virtually would be a great way to experience this play.

The Billboard just became horribly, heartbreakingly dated: the characters discuss how, since abortion is legal across the country, there is no need to debate it in a local election. This play preserves one of the last moments that was true, at least for the time being. If for no other reason, this is an important play to read, and to reflect on how the Supreme Court’s decision will deprive communities of healthcare and women, especially Black women, of bodily autonomy. The script could use some tweaking, but the message is the most vital thing in the world.

Would I Recommend It: Read the play, donate to your own local provider of reproductive services, and work like hell to get the country back.

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