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The downtown staging of a play for the next three nights may signal a shift in the strategy of Western New York pro-life activists who have not conducted a "rescue" at a local abortion clinic for the past 10 months.

Starting tonight and continuing through Saturday night, a theater group with ties to the New Covenant Tabernacle in the Town of Tonawanda will stage "Tilly," a play about the reconciliation between a mother and daughter separated by abortion.

"The theme is love, reconciliation and forgiveness," said the Rev. Paul H. Schenck of New Covenant Tabernacle. "It is not a polemic against abortion as such. It accepts the reality of abortion and explores the ramifications on a person's spirit."

The play also signals the pro-life movement's attempt to use the arts to sway public opinion.

"If we see pro-life as a long-term commitment to communicate the plight of the unborn, then we're going to need to communicate through the arts," Mr. Schenck said. "This is a much more subtle and quiet approach, but it's my feeling that it's the most powerful."

To the public, the pro-life activism this year seems decidedly quieter than last year, with the last local "rescue" -- the blockading of an abortion clinic -- performed in February.

"There has been no abandonment of rescues as such, but the emphasis has fallen on sidewalk counseling," Mr. Schenck said.

He said that jail terms for participants convicted in those rescues have been a deterrent.

"We had virtually hundreds of people in Western New York involved, and we had over 50 who served jail terms from seven days to four months," Mr. Schenck said of the rescues. "Pro-life people for the most part are family people. It becomes difficult for families to absorb that punishment continually."

The play, being staged at 8 p.m. each day in the University at Buffalo's Pfeifer Theatre, 681 Main St., will be put on by the Covenant Theater, a component of the New Covenant Tabernacle.

In the first scene, director James Whiting said, a couple that had an abortion nine years earlier spots a gravestone with the name Tilly on it. Much of the play focuses on the mother and the aborted child, Tilly, developing a close relationship in a dream.

"The play culminates with the daughter, Tilly, telling her mother that Jesus already has forgiven her for the abortion," Whiting said.

The play has a $9,000 budget, including rental of the theater. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted.

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