“‘Roe’s’ Missing Stories”: I’m at First Things

“‘Roe’s’ Missing Stories”: I’m at First Things January 24, 2017


Roe, the new play from Lisa Loomer about the woman at the heart of the 1973 Supreme Court case legalizing abortion, is much like its main subject: easily distracted, unbalanced, but undeniably compelling.

Roe (at Arena Stage in Washington, DC through February 18) at first suggests that it will be a story of two women. The play opens with Norma “Jane Roe” McCorvey (Sara Bruner) and lawyer Sarah Weddington (Sarah Jane Agnew) speaking in unison. We’re encouraged to think that their life trajectories, before and after the case that brought them together, will tell us something about abortion and moral conflict in America.

… Norma transforms more than once—from lesbian barfly to abortion-rights icon to Christian conservative—and her hunger and vitality blaze out at you in every stage of her life.

more; spoilers for, I guess, the real life of Norma McCorvey. (Although my thoughts at the end refer to “Norma” the character, not McCorvey the real person, about whom I have only Wikipedia-level knowledge.)

By the way, I thought about how to present images of fetal life in a way that would be artistically- and not just philosophically-justified–a way to make these images serve the play’s aesthetic as well as its ambition to provoke debate. The strongest way to do it would be if every time we see a pregnant woman onstage (or learn that a woman is pregnant), we at some point see a projected image of her unborn child. That would fit the play’s stylization, and give the visual design a collage texture similar to the script’s use of fourth-wall breaking. It also suggests the play’s theme that in any situation there are multiple unseen forces, unspoken realities which may or may not be acknowledged in our partisan histories. …I do realize this would be even harder for many women who have had abortions to watch than other approaches to images of the unborn, and I think it’s fair for a theater to take that into account.

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