Lisa Loomer’s new play, “Roe,” about the Supreme Court ruling of Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion in 1973, may well be this year’s most important American play.
Commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for its American Revolutions series of new plays that probe seminal events, it follows in the footsteps of a previous commissioned play, “All the Way,” that took the story of LBJ all the way to an award-winning Broadway production with Brian Cranston.
“Roe” is creating a similar stir. I know a couple whose anticipation was so great that they bought two sets of tickets for two different trips to Ashland.
The play is frequently electrifying. At times I felt pulled toward it so strongly that it was almost like jumping out of my skin and finding myself back in 1973.
In the play’s first scene, the early feminist book, “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” is shown, and from the audience comes a cheer of recognition. The play speeds ahead as rookie lawyer Sarah Weddington agrees to find a plaintiff and challenge the Texas law against abortion.
The person she finds is less than ideal. Norma McCorvey, known as Jane Roe in the case, is pregnant, poor, and wrestling with alcohol and drug abuse. Norma signs on, naively believing she’ll be able to get an abortion.
The play adroitly jumps back and forth through more than 40 years. Under Bill Rauch’s skillful direction, the action is well paced, brisk when necessary and steadily focussed in pivotal moments.
Sarah Jane Agnew as Weddington and Sara Bruner as Norma create fully realized characters. All the actors are excellent, and their onstage costume and wig changes are so astonishing they deserve applause of their own.
“Roe” brilliantly highlights the bitter moral and political divisions that sadly continue to this day.