I’m pro-choice. And while it’s painless for me to be objective as a critic, it’s difficult for me to separate work that I do from my beliefs as a woman. That being said, I’m here to talk about “Roe,” a play that analyzes the two central figures involved in the 1973 Roe v. Wade court case: Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe) and her lawyer Sarah Weddington. Written by Lisa Loomer and directed by Vanessa Stalling, “Roe” struggles with objectivity. Occupied with playing devil’s advocate and presenting an exciting display, “Roe” loses poignancy and narrative consistency.
Although the play discusses substantial issues like intersectional feminism and the seemingly hopeless state of female reproductive rights, “Roe” plays like a light-hearted musical. With upbeat pacing and jaunty transitions, what could be interpreted as an inflated gauge of the era devalues its subject matter. Loomer’s script makes careful considerations for male, women of color and working-class feminists. Yet, when this quality presents itself, it’s treated as a break from “regularly scheduled programming” instead of an insightful comment on the period.
The awkward pace affects some of the performances, but overall each actor steps fully into the shoes of their character. Christina Hall’s Sarah and Kate Middleton’s Norma effectively portray the dichotomy of female experience, with Sarah as a dedicated but privileged lawyer and Norma as working-class woman constantly seeking approval. Supporting the two leading ladies are Flip (Ryan Kitley) and Connie (Stephanie Diaz), who brought a presence of mind and authenticity to an otherwise affected spectacle.
Stalling’s guiding vision puts the past into a modern context. A crew of robed men silently judging in the background and projections of recent headlines arouse apprehension around a crisis of which we already know the outcome. What “Roe” gets right is fear. The immersive approach to some of its concluding scenes did impart the monumental status of Roe v. Wade and its precarious position within our current political state. But as a woman and a critic, I found its arguments wanting, its presentation splashy and its soul missing. (Hayley Osborn)
Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn, (312)443-3800, goodmantheatre.org, $20-$70. Through February 23.