Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of Leaving the Blues, John, Eclipsed, and Into the Woods

Sara Bruner, Sarah Jane Agnew, and Susan Lynskey
Photo by Jenny Graham
Berkeley Repertory Theatre is presenting a riveting production of Lisa Loomer's Roe, a co-production with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Arena Stage. This is the playwright's survey of the intricate and blazing foundations of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established a woman's right to an abortion. Director Bill Rauch's cast of twelve do outstanding work in this two and a half hour with intermission drama. I was spellbound by the acting of the actors and actresses in this quick piece on a semi-bare stage with projections. Roe crackles with energy and makes the historical events come alive and breathe on stage. It is unexpectedly funny at many points and intensely sad and touching at other times.

Roe traces Sarah and Norma's peculiar relationship, first as cronies and later, after Norma finds Jesus and denounces Sarah, as rivals when it becomes fair game for preachers and politicians.

We follow the two main characters Sarah Weddington (Sarah Jane Agnew), the lawyer who successfully argues the pro-choice side of Roe v. Wade, and hard-drinking, trash-talking lesbian Norma McCorvey (Sara Bruner) who is pregnant, wants an abortion, and will become the "Jane Roe" (to protect her identity) of the case. They are different as night and day. Norma is a devil-may-care train wreck who is pregnant, penniless, alone, muddled and pliable, while Sarah is a career-hungry opportunist who latches onto Norma's dilemma to progress her own agenda, which eventually leads to her arguing before the Supreme Court. The ensemble in the opening scene wear robes to represent the Supreme Court justices and then disrobe to reveal the costumes of the various characters they play. Other than Sarah Jane Agnew and Sara Bruner, the actors play multiple roles.

Sarah Jane Agnew and Sara Bruner as Sarah Weddington and Norma McCorvey are outstanding in their roles. Catherine Castellanos is wonderful as Norma's lover Connie, especially when she says "Norma wasn't pro-choice or pro-life, she was just pro-Norma." Jim Abele is pitch perfect as Flip Benham, the leader of the antiabortion group. He personifies the smooth evangelizing activist in a way that never patronizes to the character. It's a pleasure to see Mark Bedard and Richard Elmore back on stage here, and they perform many roles in this production, delivering splendidly in each one. Kenya Alexander shines as a young, pregnant woman named Roxanne toward the end of the play. Zoe Bishop, Gina Daniels, Pamela Dunlap, Susan Lynskey, and Amy Newman play various characters and they excel in their roles.

Director Bill Ranch, Artistic Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, preserves an appealing vivaciousness in the production. There are a lot of quick costume (Raquel Barreto) and scene changes (scenic design by Rachel Hauck), and clever use of projections (Wendall Herrington) that never become excessive or distracting. All comes together for a very enjoyable production.

Roe runs through April 2nd, 2017, at the Roda Roda Theatre of the Berkeley Rep, 2025 Addison Ave, Berkeley. For tickets visit or call 510-647-2975. Coming up are Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin in the Peet's Theatre from April 4 through April 30, and a new musical, Monsoon Wedding, in the Roda Theatre May 5 through June 25.

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