January 6, 2017 at 12:50 pm EST | by Patrick Folliard
New Arena Stage production revisits Roe v. Wade case
Roe, gay news, Bill Rauch, Washington Blade

Bill Rauch, director of ‘Roe’ at Arena Stage, says the play has special meaning for LGBT people. (Photo courtesy Arena)

Jan. 12-Feb. 19
Arena Stage
1101 Sixth St., S.W.

Did you know Jane Roe the plaintiff in the groundbreaking 1973 reproductive rights case Roe v. Wade was in fact a lesbian named Norma McCorvey? This and other insights come out in Lisa Loomer’s new play “Roe” soon opening at Arena Stage after a successful run at the prestigious Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

“For those who know the history it’s important to remember, and for so many people who don’t know the case, it’s revelatory,” says out director Bill Rauch. “The subject is unbelievably timely and urgent in light of election results. Just yesterday I read an article citing that 300 separate restrictions have been passed on abortion at the state level since 2011. The clock is rolling back on reproductive justice.”

“Roe” focuses on the lives of two young women, Norma McCorvey (Sara Bruner), a Texas bartender who wants to end a pregnancy and Sarah Weddington (Sarah Jane Agnew), the lawyer who argued the case before the Supreme Court at age 26, and follows their divergent paths following the landmark decision. The cast also includes Catherine Castellanos as McCorvey’s partner Connie Gonzalez, Richard Elmore as Justice Blackmun, and local Susan Lynskey plays lawyer Linda Coffee.

Loomer’s aim was to give all people access into the story whatever their personal views on abortion, and she’s pulled that off brilliantly according to Rauch. Throughout the evening, audiences will hear many sides of the argument articulated by many different characters. “It’s a difficult feat that might have sent lesser playwrights running,” he says.

“I’m very clear personally about pro-choice views and I feel it’s the job of the director to bring out the humanity in every character,” says Rauch who is married to actor/director Christopher Liam Moore. “It’s pretty rare that someone goes through life thinking they’re the bad guy. In truth, people are fighting for what they believe and that’s what makes the issue so emotional. The question of choice is rooted in people’s world view and sometimes religious belief. It’s been fantastic to work with the cast on a broad range of characters and honor each character’s views.”

“Roe” is part of Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s American Revolutions: United States History Cycle. Launched by Rauch, also the festival’s artistic director, American Revolutions’ goal is to commission 37 new American plays focusing on American moments of change in our country’s past.

The project was inspired by Shakespeare’s history cycle and the company hopes to address the anxieties and hopes of modern life through dramatizing them. So far, 32 of the 37 pieces have been commissioned and 10 have been produced, most at the festival’s home in Ashland, Ore., but some elsewhere such as “Sweat” at Arena and “All the Way,” Robert Schenkkan’s play about Lyndon Johnson and Civil Rights, both on Broadway and at Arena.

“It’s exciting to be part of the national dialogue,” Rauch says.

There are myriad reasons for LGBT audiences to see “Roe,” Rauch says.

“First of all every person should see a play that looks at the history and reality of reproductive justice.  I say that hesitantly because it makes it sound like spinach, and it’s not. The work is incredibly entertaining and humor filled. It’s a great ride. For those of us in the queer community given all we’ve dealt with and will continue to deal with, I think it’s especially important to see a work like this.”

He says the lesbian relationship at the center of the play is “truly the heart of the story.”

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