Synopsis and Academic Support

A play by Steve Wangh about abortion, complication and choice


Harriet is a mother, an artist, and the creator of the play we are watching. She is also pregnant and trying to decide whether to have a second child or have an abortion. The piece she is making, Misconceptions, is at once a devised documentary and a surreal flight of magical realism.

As Act One begins, Harriet discovers she is pregnant, and she decides to transform her painful decision-making process into a performance piece. She argues with her Black friend, Darcelle, and with her estranged husband, Jorge, as she weaves a multilayered and self-revelatory story which includes a rumination on sacrifice by a Syrian butcher, a simultaneous translation from Spanish of three men who discuss women and abortions, and documentary news reportage of the murder of an abortion doctor.

In Act Two, after listening to Harriet’s interview with Frances Kissling of Catholics for Free Choice, Darcelle confronts Harriet about her ignorance of Black women’s history and experience with forced sterilizations. Then, in an encounter with her mother, Harriet discovers the true story of her own birth, but it is only when Darcelle speaks about her own rape history that Harriet is forced to wrestle with the disturbing issues she has been trying to avoid: issues of violence, loss, and sacrifice.

The final scenes of the play lead us through a fantasy in which a pro-life lawyer deposes a fetus. And at the end, the play culminates with a surreal vision in which Kali, the Indian goddess of Life and Death challenges Harriet to perceive the larger, ecological reverberations of her abortion decision.

Main Characters

HARRIET – A visual and performance artist—and a mother, about 40, white.
DARCELLE – Teacher and producer, black, lesbian, about 40.  – This actor should also play KALI: Indian Goddess of birth and death.
MOTHER – Harriet’s mother, ex-dancer, about 65.
JORGE – Harriet’s ex-husband, Hispanic, drummer, about 40.
ENSEMBLE – play many interviewees and other characters.
Misconceptions can be performed by seven actors: four women and three men.

Academic and Community Support

A workbook with legal and historical quotations is available for productions and readings of Misconceptions that wish to use this script to promote inter-departmental or community discussions about human rights, non-violent communications and the role of art in social discourse.

Stephen Wangh

Is the author of 15 plays, and a director, a teacher and book author. He was Associate Writer for The Laramie Project (Emmy nomination 2002), and writer, with Leigh Fondakowski, of The People’s Temple (Glickman Award: Best Play in the Bay Area 2005, at the Berkeley Rep). In 1997, Steve was the dramaturg of Moisés Kaufman’s Gross Indecency. In March 2020, his Zoom play, The Waiting Room, was produced live-on-Zoom by the Silverthorne Theater in Greenfield, MA. And last year, his short play, Waking Up was produced by the Vermont Actors’ Repertory Theatre in February, 2022.

Steve is the author of two books: An Acrobat of the Heart: A Physical Approach to Acting Inspired by the Work of Jerzy Grotowski, and The Heart of Teaching: Empowering Students in the Performing Arts.

Steve taught acting for forty years at Emerson College, Naropa University, and at New York University, where he is Arts Professor Emeritus.