Cast size: 4M, 2W
Premiered at: Playwrights Horizons (1997)
Directed by: David Petrarca
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The story

Megan is an actress somewhere between "ingenue" and "Mom." When she loses a role to a younger woman, her agent convinces the pro-choice Megan to do a right-to-life commercial. Megan, begins to date the unexpectedly compelling Randall, the pro-life organization's director, trying to put her beliefs aside, until their romance is shattered by Randall's militant minions and Megan's unexpected pregnancy.


"The Water simply the most intelligent and entertaining play of the season....A work tackling the ticklish issue of abortion as viewed by assorted pro-choicers, pro-lifers, and hetero- and homosexuals holds genuine promise along with a plethora of pitfalls. It is to Miss MacLeod's considerable credit that she fulfills most of the former while sidestepping most of the latter. Her seriocomic piece is as gripping as it is amusing, and best of all, abundantly stimulates thought." --John Simon, New York Magazine

"With its mixture of romance, humor and sadness as it addresses the issue of abortion, The Water a fascinating play." --The New York Times

"The Water Children...examines controversial issues with wit and candor, taking some wildly imaginative excursions." --Variety

" The Water Children...the writing is even handed, cogent, and captivating; an articulate debate touched with...passion and astringent comedy." --The Village Voice

Author's note

I remember critiques in grad school where there were earnest discussions about what was and wasn't a "large play." As far as I could tell a large play was anything having to do with war, politics and men. "Small plays" involved love, family, and women. I suppose THE WATER CHILDREN is a medium-sized play because it deals with a political issue-abortion-but it is also about love, family and a woman making peace with her past.

After I had my own children, I was unable to see abortion as matter-of-factly as I did before. I realized that in the event of unplanned pregnancy now, I would probably choose to have the child. At the same time, I realized an accidental pregnancy in your thirties when you're married and employed is very different from an accidental pregnancy when you're sixteen, alone and poor. So my emotional self was at war with my rational, feminist self.

I had been thinking about writing a play about an actress who appeared in a pro-life commercial. At about this time I read an excerpt in Harper's about Japanese abortion rituals from a book called LIQUID LIFE. It seems that in Japan there is no stigma against abortion, in fact, in many cases, it is considered the height of family values to do what's best for the child and not invite it into difficult circumstances. But temples were springing up where women could go and apologize to their aborted children, who were called the mikuzo or "the water children." Somehow the Japanese culture was acknowledging women's ambivalent feelings about abortion without threatening to take away their legal right to do it. A lightbulb went off in my own head, and I was pretty sure that this would be the ending of my heroine's journey as well. Suddenly there was a third point of view, which acknowledged the life of the fetus at the same time it acknowledged circumstances where abortion was necessary. Coincidentally, the man who wrote this book, William LaFleur, came to speak at the college where I teach and I went to hear him. And coincidentally, I ran into him the next day and had, what was for me, a profound conversation.

I felt that the only way to say something new about the issue of abortion was to challenge the presumptions of the predominantly liberal theatre-going audience. Instead of making the Randall Terry figure a cartoon, I wanted to make him an intelligent, sympathetic pro-lifer. There is, at least, a consistency, an integrity, to his position. He started out as an anti-Vietnam War protester and, because he was opposed to all killing, found his way into the pro-life movement. Randall is not a villain and should not be played as one. We have to believe that Megan would consider marrying him, at least until she discovers that, when push comes to shove, he might literally try to control her body.

Megan is a savvy, ironic New Yorker--she doesn't reveal her pain, she covers it, at least until it's no longer possible to do so. While she finds the forgiveness she's craved in the temple scene with Chance, Megan's return to her mother is also important. The play is about children searching for parents as much as it is about parents searching for lost children. Crystal is hoping Megan will be a mother to her, and Dinardi has found a surrogate father in Randall. I want to acknowledge that Megan is going to need some help with that baby. Chance should be played as a regular kid, and a regular 20-year-old, not as some sort of angel-boy. Lastly, there is a danger of the Liz character becoming one-note and didactic-her struggle with Randall has to be as much about wanting Megan for herself as it is about her politics.

David Petrarca, who directed the premiere at Playwrights Horizons, did a masterful job of keeping the play moving, so that we fluidly moved in and out of Megan's head and in and out of the many locations. I would like to thank David, the designers, the brilliant original cast, and especially the producers Tim Sanford and Julia Miles for creating my best experience in theatre to date.

Wendy MacLeod
December 1998

Press bibliography

Barnes, Clive. "Play about abortion rarely wanders off beaten tract." New York Post 4 November 1997.

Daniels, Robert L. "The Water Children (Review)." Variety 10 November 1997.

Feld, Bruce. "The Water Children (Review)." Drama-Logue 30 April 1998.

Gluck, Victor. "The Water Children (Review)." Back Stage 7 November 1997.

Houppert, Karen. "Apologies to the Unborn." American Theatre Magazine January 1998.

Jacobsen, Aileen. "On Abortion Rights and Making a Living." Newsday 4 November 1997.

Martinez, Julio. "The Water Children (Review)." Variety May 1998.

Shaner, Madeline. "The Water Children (Review)." Nightlife (Los Angeles) 16 May 1998.

Shirley, Don. "'Water Children' Plunges Into Abortion Controversy." Los Angeles Times May 1998.

Simon, John. "The Water Children (Review)." New York 24 November 1997.

Van Gelder, Lawrence. "Round 1: She Supports Abortion, He's Opposed." New York Times 6 November 1997.


Production Photos
Photos: Joan Marcus
(click to enlarge)

Pictured: Wendy Makkena, Jonathan Walker

Pictured: Robert Sella