5/21/2022 ROE Horizon Theatre
WHERE THE PERSONAL IS MADE POLITICAL
Let me start by framing a few questions.
Is there a more polarizing political issue than abortion? Is there a more personal issue?
At what point in fetal development does “ensoulment” occur? (in other words, At what point do fetal stem cells acquire a soul?)
Is a fetus an “independent human being” or, by every definition, a parasite whose life is totally dependent on living inside another human being?
At what point in the birth process is the official “time of birth?”
Is it the time of birth or the time of conception that controls astrological significance?
Is fetal survival of more value than a mother’s life and health?
Is the etymological relationship between “spirit” and “respiration” also a theological or philosophical one? (in other words, if we replace our lungs with gills, would we no longer have souls?) Along with that, is the fact that the lungs are the final prenatal organs to develop of any significance at all?
How one answers these questions, will determine which side of the abortion issue one falls.
And, because ALL of these questions require an emotionally driven response more than an intellectually reasoned response, there will never be agreement on this issue.
To get my own bias out of the way up front, IMHO, the law needs to take a “hands-off” approach. “Ensoulment” is, by definition, a religious concept, and as such, any law regarding it (pro or con) violates the first amendment. And, in a practical sense, any law prohibiting abortion can, with a change in political fortune, become a law requiring it. Any law stating that “Life begins at conception,” can, with a change in political fortune, become a law requiring eviction from an unwilling womb. This is the legal and political blind alley our leaders and our pundits have chosen as a top priority.
That being said, half of you will passionately disagree with me, and stop reading now.
Which is a shame, because I think you really should see Lisa Loomer’s Roe, now being given a terrific production at Horizon Theatre, The play achieves what I think should be impossible – it frames a polarizing political issue in purely personal terms, not giving “priority of the playwright’s beliefs” preference to either side. No one is a villain here. Or, really, a hero. And it is compelling enough – even when it makes characters you want to dislike not especially unlikeable – to send its audiences into separate (maybe even equal) rabbit holes of introspection and reflection.
It also has moments of high comedy, and gut-wrenching sadness, of righteous anger and agonizing gentleness, of small kindnesses and ideological blindnesses.
Roe tells the story of Roe vs Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case making abortion legal in America. It frames the story as a debate between two women, Norma McCorvey (“Jane Roe”) and Sarah Weddington, (the lawyer who successfully argued the case). They address us directly, often giving contradictory “facts.” But they are constructed as characters, not polemic puppets. They can be aggravating and inspiring, confused and driven, hurting and hurtful.
Weddington was a young recent law school graduate who sought out McCorvey as a purposeful “test case.” McCorvey was a hard-drinking, hard-living lesbian, dirt poor and filled with anger. McCorvey finds a measure of tenderness with her longtime companion, Connie Gonzales, but was also “used” with little regard to her own wishes by Weddington, by NOW, by Operation Rescue – yes, we see her conversion to born-again Christianity and to a passionate pro-life stance, which she either renounced shortly before her 2017 death, or she didn’t, depending on whom you ask.
One of Ms. Loomer’s better choices is to allow characters to directly address the audience in a “town-hall” format that gives frequent “what happened next” context – many of the characters actually get to say “My Obituary says ....” One, in fact, gets to complain that “Wikipedia says this was the highlight of my life.” This device not only becomes a means for some droll humor and reflection, it also paints the characters as “points in a political story” regardless of how that story personally affected them. It underscores the Politics/Personal dichotomy I believe Ms. Loomer is trying to achieve.,
This would not work so well if it weren’t for the terrific cast, most of whom double in more than one role. In the leads are Rhyn McLemore and Jennifer Alice Acker as Norma and Sarah. They confidently interact as colleagues (never really friends) and as adversaries, each creating well-rounded characters who spring to life in ways I doubt their historical models could have accomplished. Providing outstanding support are Lorraine Rodriguez-Reyes (Connie and others), Heidi Cline McKerley (Norma’s mother and others), Daniel Parvis (Operation Rescue’s Flip Benham and others), Jeff McKerley (Justice Blackman and Others), Rachel Frawley (Linda Coffee and others), Shelli Delgado, Nora Dey, Jasmine Renee Ellis, Monica L. Garcia, and Brandon Partrick. **
The set by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay is a simple columned arena, evocative of the Supreme Court itself or of any number of municipal meeting places. Lisa Adler directs with an assured eye on keeping the characters ahead of the politics, at keeping the pace ahead of the polemics. This is compelling piece that, with the imminent demise of Roe V. Wade, is a memorable introduction to the people behind the history, the events that formed the backbone of the decision.
And it’s an excellent “litmus test” (surely an overused phrase in any discussion about politics and abortion) to your own beliefs. At least to mine.
And it’s an urgent reminder that however angry, however passionate the debate grows, it is too often at the expense of a woman, a family, a doctor who are facing one of the most painful personal decisions of their lives.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol,com, #htcRoe)
** It should be noted that Mr. McKerley and Ms. Frawley were swings filling in for William S. Murphey and Sarah Elizabeth Wallis, who were apparently feeling under the weather and the roles played by young Mora Dey are shared with Emme Mew.
To get on a soapbox and inject a note of my own politics into these final words, I can’t help but feel a little anger at how conservative pundits are playing the “victim card” when talking about judges experiencing protests at their homes, when we are told that Justice Blackman received actual death threats every day of his life after the opinion was handed down, and had gunfire strike his home when his family was inside. I can’t help feeling confused when these same pundits decry a government that “forces” them to wear face masks that are proven to slow the pandemic and save lives but allow that same government to control the bodies of their wives and daughters.