The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Written as a one-act play but with a possible intermission after the climactic thirteenth scene, Jane Martin’s emotional Keely and Du chronicles the fate of Keely from the last preparations for her imprisonment through her eventual release. Set almost exclusively in a sparsely furnished basement that has been converted into a prison, the play focuses on Keely’s developing and changing relationship with her adversary Du, the fundamentalist Christian who guards her to prevent her from terminating her unwanted pregnancy.

In the beginning, Du waits for two male orderlies to bring in the body of the unconscious, kidnapped Keely. She prepares the bed on which Keely will lie, handcuffed to its iron bedstead, and greets Walter, the organizer of the kidnapping. Walter is a sanctimonious pastor of fifty, who acts with the single-mindedness of a well-programmed robot. Du, on the other hand, betrays her underlying humanity through small acts of kindness toward their kidnap victim.

With Walter gone for four days, Du tends to Keely. At first, Keely fights with Du, throwing her breakfast on the floor. Du responds in a befuddled way, almost like a disoriented grandmother, telling of her own children and marriage, when all Keely cares about is to leave her prison. Du reveals her religious beliefs to Keely and tells her that she will not be released until it is too late to have an abortion.

Walter appears and begins his lectures to Keely. Self-righteously, he justifies his actions with his extreme religious beliefs and tells Keely that she will come to love her child once it is born. Keely rejects this attack on her liberty and...

(The entire section is 678 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Strong dramatic unity of space is created by confining the action of all but the last scene to the basement room that functions as Keely’s jail. With its sparse props, the stage fully conveys a sense of imprisonment. Immobilized by the handcuffs to her left wrist, Keely is literally tied to her bed and limited in her range of actions. Her quest to get rid of her shackles, even for a moment, and to be able to stand up again, lends urgency to her verbal pleading with Du.

Walter is the one character who freely moves on and off stage, passing through the stage’s world of the basement jail and the free world outside the theater. His mobility is related to his leadership role. He is instrumental in organizing Keely’s imprisonment, and he stays in touch with outside events.

Du has voluntarily confined herself to share the prison space with Keely. Whenever the lights go on to illuminate the next scene of the play, she is already onstage with Keely. The one moment when Du does leave Keely alone is when she follows Walter and Cole to minister to Cole’s bitten hand. Without Du’s presence, Keely performs the drastic act of abortion.

To give this climactic act great symbolic power, the playwright lets Keely use the prop of the wire hanger that came with her birthday dress. When the audience sees Keely pulling the wire hanger from under the mattress where she has hidden it and move it under her blanket, the spectators understand what action is theatrically implied here. When the lights come back on for scene seventeen, Keely’s bed is drenched in stage blood, and the actress lies as if unconscious. This sight drives Walter into a panicked flight, revealing his ultimate loss of control over the situation. Du stays behind to call an ambulance. Her concern for Keely overrides her impulse to save herself.

With the last scene taking place in a proper jail, where Du is visited by Keely, the audience never escapes the atmosphere of prison. It is almost as if the contentious philosophical and moral debate about abortion threatens to imprison all those who wish to tackle this difficult ethical subject. Now Keely and Du’s roles are reversed. However, no matter who is imprisoned and who is free, the friendship of the two women has endured.


(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Gussow, Mel. “Plays by Women, for Anyone and Mostly About Violence.” New York Times, March 24, 1993, p. C15.

Henry, George. “Is Kidnapping for Jesus a Moral Right?” Time 142 (November 29, 1993): 71.

Kintz, Linda. “Chained to the Bed: Violence and Abortion in Keely and Du.” In Staging Resistance: Essays on Political Theatre, edited by Jeanne Colleran and Jenny S. Spencer. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998.

Klein, Alvin. “Keely and Du: The Battle over Abortion.” New York Times, October 16, 1994, p. NJ17.

Martin, Jane. Jane Martin: Collected Plays, 1980-1995. Manchester, N.H.: Smith and Kraus, 1996.

Solinger, Rickie, ed. Abortion Wars: A Half Century of Struggle, 1950-2000. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Stearns, David Patrick. “Keely and Du: When the Body Politic Is a Woman’s.” USA Today, February 11, 1994, p. D3.