“You didn’t give a damn about Roe the person—all you cared about was Roe the case!” –Norma; Act II, Scene II
Smart, witty and at times funny, “Roe” made its Chicago Premiere Monday night at Goodman Theatre. The show tackles a very serious and highly emotional subject--legalized abortion--that has caused a divide in America since its inception in 1973 when it was adopted as law by a 7-2 decision by the US Supreme Court.
Although the decision, commonly referred to as pro-choice, to allow a pregnant woman to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction became law, the debate remains a heated one to this day.
Playwright Lisa Loomer explores the case and the controversy surrounding it from its beginnings going beyond the headlines and rhetoric to reveal the divergent personal journeys that mirror the current polarization over Roe v. Wade—and the heart and passion each side has for its cause.
Vanessa Stalling directs the 15-member cast, including the emblematic characters of plaintiff Norma McCorvey (“Jane Roe”) and Sarah Weddington, the young Texan lawyer who argued the case.
The play was originally commissioned and produced (2016) by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as part of their “American Revolutions” program—a multi-decade effort to commission and develop plays about pivotal moments in American history.
“Roe” tells the story many people don’t know. “Who was Roe?” Who tried the case? What happened at the trial? And what repercussions followed?
The real Roe, the late Norma McCorvey (Kate Middleton), a 22-year old lesbian women dealing with drug, money and alcohol problems who desperately wants to get an abortion (this is her third pregnancy), is a complex plaintiff --a polar opposite to the privileged, well educated young Texas lawyer Sarah Weddington (Christina Hall), who is working to override the anti-abortion laws.
At the center of the drama is the lurking question: “did Weddington sacrifice Norma (who became Jane Roe in the legal case) for her passion for the cause not caring about the personal feelings of Norma?”
“Roe” explores this and more. Goodman Theatre’s Artistic Director Robert Falls elaborates “I’ve long been familiar with the Supreme Court case, but knew little about the women behind this monumental decision involving reproductive rights. In her thought-provoking, even-handed play Roe, gifted playwright Lisa Loomer encounters us with the brave, flawed people who may not be household names—but whose actions have, in one way or another, affected us all.”
Loomer works hard to present both the pro-choice and pro-life sides of the debate but falls a little flat on the side of pro-life.
Ryan Kitley, as Flip the pro-life Christian minster and head of Operation Rescue, who befriends and eventually converts Norma to pro-life, comes across as a little too ‘flip.” And, once again, we are left questioning whether the vulnerable Norma is being “used” or if Flip really cares.
The drama provides the backstory to the many players involved in the decision and its repercussions through over 40 years. We see the hatred and threats directed toward Justice Blackmun (John Lister). We see the heartbreak as Norma’s relationship with her loving lesbian partner Connie (Stephanie Diaz), comes to an end because of her religious conversion and more.
From Collette Pollard’s set, evoking majestic portico of Supreme Court building’s Corinthian columns, to the smart dialogue and comedic timing,“Roe” flows seamlessly. But part of me questions the comedic aspect of the play.
Is this really a subject for laughter or is laughter just a way of relieving the tension that lurks on both sides of the debate?
Rating: 3 stars
When: Through February 23, 2020
Where: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago
Tickets: $20 – $70
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes, with one intermission
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Filed under: Theater in Chicago