I had the great privilege of reading this play (twice) and helping to lead a discussion about it at Mixed Blood Theatre in February. Confession: I don't read plays, I see plays. This was really my first experience reading and studying a play on the page, and then going to see it fully produced on a stage, which perhaps increased my appreciation of it. The writing is incredibly clever in the way it weaves together the very different perspectives of the various characters, often citing a book, Wikipedia, or even their obituary. It plays with the idea of truth - when, for example, Norma says she was two and a half months pregnant when she first met with Sarah, and Sarah says she was at least four months, which is true? And does it even matter at this point? The result is the same. We hear multiple sides of this story, with characters often breaking out of the scene to speak directly to the audience, or to argue with each other about what really happened. In the final scene, the audience becomes part of the action in a Town Hall discussion about abortion that becomes increasing heated and uncomfortable, until one young woman cuts through all of the angry rhetoric to remind us of what's really at stake. The playwright does a beautiful job of tackling this incredibly complicated and nuanced issue, and presenting it on stage in a very human, relatable, immediate way that hopefully goes beyond the usual debates that don't get anywhere.
|laywers Linda Coffee (Kate Guentzel) and Sara Weddington
(Laura Zabel) need "Jane Roe's" (Tracey Maloney)
signature (photo by Rich Ryan)
The complicated narrative is brought to life on stage in a dynamic and exciting way by director Mark Valdez, with scenes flowing from one to the next seamlessly. The terrific 11-person cast is anchored by two incredible performances by Tracey Maloney as Norma and Laura Zabel as Sarah. They both bring such humanity and depth to their characters that you can't help but empathize with them, even if you don't agree with what they're saying. Fresh off of playing another woman at the heart of an important legal decision (see Stewardess!), #TCTheater favorite Tracey Maloney is perhaps as good as I've ever seen her here as Norma. Tough-talking and funny, but also vulnerable and full of hurt as Norma is just looking for someone to truly see and love her (and can't accept it when someone does). I know Laura Zabel mostly from the comedy world, and she's a revelation here as Sarah, the complete opposite of Norma. She portrays Sarah's absolute strength and dedication to securing the rights of all women, but also her flaws and struggles. This play doesn't work without two equally strong actors in these two roles as they do this dance of history and truth, and this pairing works.
|Norma (Tracey Maloney) at the center of a whirlwind
(photo by Rich Ryan)
|Sarah (Laura Zabel) and Norma
(Tracey Maloney, photo by Rich Ryan)
Roe the play is smart, funny, and incredibly relevant at a time when Roe the Supreme Court decision still stands (as they say in the play), but safe, legal abortion is become less accessible to women, especially poor women and women of color. Not only is this a brilliantly constructed and executed piece of theater, but it couldn't come at a better time when people are more ready to hear it (did I mention it's already almost sold out?). I hope it gets to Broadway after this, where I hope I will see it again, but I can't imagine being any more affected than I was last night by this production. I'll say it again - best thing I've seen this year, no question.
Roe continues through March 31 at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis' Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.