Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of The Hard Problem

Sara Bruner, Sarah Jane Agnew, and Susan Lynskey
Photo by C. Stanley Photography
Politics and theater tend to overlap in Washington, DC, and so Arena Stage took the opportunity to schedule its production of Roe to coincide with both the presidential inauguration and the 34th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. Playwright Lisa Loomer does not favor one side over the other as she examines the human drama behind the 1973 case that legalized abortion in the U.S.; all audience members will hear things they agree with, things that may make them uneasy or angry, and things that never occurred to them. In any case, the conversation continues.

The personal is political, as the expression goes, and Loomer focuses on how two people can go through an experience together and perceive it differently. What is "the truth"? To Norma McCorvey (Sara Bruner), it's about losing custody of one child, giving up another for adoption, and now seeking an abortion in late 1960s Texas. For Sarah Weddington (Sarah Jane Agnew), barely out of law school, it's joining a genteel consciousness-raising group and stumbling into a case that took her before the Supreme Court at age 26.

Director Bill Rauch, who premiered this production at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with many of the same cast members, brings a fluidity to the staging that allows time to move unobtrusively and locations to change almost instantaneously. A versatile 10-member ensemble plays all the roles supporting the two powerful leads.

The most interesting part of the drama is how well-meaning people can overlook the most important things or simply not see them. McCorvey is a hard-living bartender who drinks too much, takes drugs, shoplifts if she doesn't have enough money to pay for food—and middle-class Weddington has sympathy for her, but also pegs her as a redneck. When Weddington goes to Washington to address the Supreme Court, she never thinks of taking McCorvey along, even though the case wouldn't exist without her.

Bruner brings an almost feral energy to McCorvey, an excessive personality driven to find self-justification at one extreme or the other. Weddington keeps her passions restrained, but Agnew allows the audience to see beneath the façade. Their interactions are electric.

Rachel Hauck has designed a deceptively simple set that allows a few platforms and some furniture to represent a series of locales, anchored by Wendall K. Harrington's projected backdrops and Jane Cox's quietly effective lighting. Raquel Barreto's costumes bring the era to life, from leisure suits with patch pockets to Weddington's green-trimmed lavender suit.

Arena Stage
January 12th, 2017 - February 19th, 2017
A co-production with Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Berkeley Repertory Theatre
By Lisa Loomer
Sarah Weddington: Sarah Jane Agnew
Norma McCorvey: Sara Bruner
Aileen/Barbara/Uma/Third Pregnant Woman: Gina Daniels
Linda Coffee/Judy/First Pregnant Woman/Peggy: Susan Lynskey
Helen/Second Pregnant Woman/Ronda: Amy Newman
Molly/Mary: Pamela Dunlap
Ofelia/Connie Gonzalez: Catherine Castellanos
Henry McCluskey/Robert Flowers/Abortion Doctor: Mark Bedard
Ron Weddington/Jay Floyd/Flip Benham: Jim Abele
Doctor Kennedy/Henry Wade/Justice Blackmun: Richard Elmore
Melissa/Emily: Zoe Bishop
Roxanne: Kenya Alexander
Directed by Bill Rauch
Kreeger Theater, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Sixth and Maine avenues SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or

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