Director Vanessa Stalling’s innovative staging of “Roe,” the story behind the landmark Roe v. Wade case, keeps Goodman Theatre audiences captivated its entire two hours.
There was also a 15 minute intermission but it hardly interrupted the flow because the play, written by Lisa Loomer, was about to change direction.
There is likely more history to the backstory of the characters involved in the case than most audiences know going into the show. So there will be no spoiler alert here that reveals what happens after intermission. Just see the show.
First, one of the things I love about Goodman Theatre productions is the detailed interviews and background given in the Playbill. If time allows before the show starts, read what Goodman Theatre Literary Manager Jonathan L. Green, the Roe dramaturg, found about pre-Roe reproductive rights and also his summary of the Supreme Court’s majority and dissenting opinions.
More pre-show stage information appears as projections on set designer Collette Pollard’s imposing Supreme court column-lined scenic background.
They are the many headlines on recent state anti-abortion actions and recent court rulings. They range from an 11-year-old rape victim who wanted an abortion but was forced to carry to birth to how many dollars anti-abortionists contributed to Donald Trump’s campaign.
However, most of the action happens with Pollard’s mobile scenery and costume designer Jessica Pabst’s clothing changes – all taking place on stage.
That works fine in front of the audience because Stalling is driving home Loomer’s insight into the characters involved in the case. Their actions and motivations are not static. They evolve.
The case, known as Roe v Wade, is Jane Roe, et al. v. Henry Wade, Dallas County District Attorney. It was first argued December 13, 1971, reargued Oct. 11, 1972 and decided Jan. 22, 1973, way past when “Roe” delivered her baby because she was not allowed the abortion she had wanted.
Loomer presents arguments on both sides through Sarah Weddington who was 26 when she first argued the case in 1971, flawlessly played by Christina Hall, Justice Blackmun, portrayed by John Lister, Linda Coffee (Meg Warner) who brought the case to Weddington and was co-counsel, and Henry McCluskey (Raymond Fox), a gay adoption attorney and friend of Coffee who had found a plaintiff for her.
The plaintiff, Norma McCorvey, brilliantly played by Kate Middleton, was a gay hippie who wanted an abortion and agreed to be the plaintiff for Coffee at the district level, then for Weddington at the Supreme Court level.
McCorvey and Weddington both authored books on the case, themselves, their views.
Connie, McCorvey’s longtime lesbian partner, has to be mentioned. She fades into the background but she was well-portrayed by Stephanie Diaz.
The entire cast is strong. The production is extraordinary. And the backstory reflects the divergent thinking prevalent in the United States today.
DETAILS: “Roe” is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, through Feb. 23, 2020. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and more information call (312) 443-3800 or visit GoodmanTtheatre.
For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago