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REVIEW: St. Bette's: Funny, thought-provoking

In "St. Bette's," a play set in a 1960s Catholic home for unwed mothers, four young women are reminded over and over: "This is just one chapter in your lives. Happier days are coming."...

In "St. Bette's," a play set in a 1960s Catholic home for unwed mothers, four young women are reminded over and over: "This is just one chapter in your lives. Happier days are coming."

What the women of St. Bette's soon realize is that it won't be so easy to forget a chapter of their lives in which they were powerless, without choices and told repeatedly that giving up their babies was "for the best."

Each mother-to-be at St. Bette's has her own story and the actors who played them do well in conveying the humanity and confusion of their predicaments.

Wendy Swerdlow Peterson plays the sweet and simple Myrtle, who looks forward to motherhood but isn't smart enough to know she's been conned by those who sent her to St. Bette's.

Kathryn Labine is the tough-talking, profane Marge, who says she liked sex and who was a "repeat offender" at St. Bette's, this being her third time in residence. But her bravado, her antics behind Sister's back, her contraband reading materials, her forbidden cigarettes, all seem like a shield after a while.

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Katrina Brekka is Janice, who seems to hold herself above the other girls, even though the father of her baby is a black man during a time when the races were not supposed to mix, especially sexually.

Cecilia (Jennifer Ferrizzi) is the newbie at the home, a smart girl who had been accepted into medical school but who seems utterly naive (not to mention terrified) about pregnancy and childbirth. She said she loved her baby's father, but she couldn't be a pregnant medical school student.

Sister, played by Erin Hendrickson, is perhaps the most interesting character, as she represents both the societal and church establishment that was such a large part of why these young women had so few choices. But she isn't played as the standard hard-ass nun. She has an empathetic side, a weird affinity for baseball and is funny as heck. She may or may not have secrets of her own.

St. Bette's was written by Grand Forks playwright Kathy Coudle-King, and it was great to see Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre produce a show by a local writer, and especially do it so well. Coudle-King's scenes and dialogue about the boredom and tedium of life at St. Bette's feel authentic, especially the way the mothers-to-be talk about their conditions and both long for and fear childbirth. Jeff Kinney did a great job of designing and executing the set.

What surprised me was the amount of humor, and the depth and breadth of the issues raised by "St. Bette's." After the two Sunday shows (Sunday and March 14), Coudle-King and director Adonica Schultz Aune will discuss the play with the audience.

"St. Bette's" first was produced at NYU's Stella Adler Studio in March 2008 and now is being produced at Bridgewater (Mass.) State College. This is its Midwest premiere. It opened Thursday in Fire Hall, and I saw it Wednesday during media night. The show still felt a little ragged around the edges, with issues of timing and the like, but it was entertaining and thought-provoking. You may find yourself wondering about the women of St. Bette's and their babies long after the curtain comes down.

"St. Bette's" continues at 7:30 tonight through Saturday, Thursday through March 13 and March 18-20, with matinees at 2 p.m. Sunday and on March 14. Tickets are $18 and $15. For reservations, call (701) 777-4090.

Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or send e-mail to ptobin@gfherald.com .

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