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BWW Review: OU Shows the Humanity Behind History with ROE

ROE is a compelling play about the people behind the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade.

BWW Review: OU Shows the Humanity Behind History with ROE
photo by Wendy Mutz Photography

Lisa Loomer's 2016 play ROE is a compelling, thought-provoking work that delves into truth and what that really means. ROE is based on documented accounts of the people behind Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that gave women access to legal, safe abortions. Prior to this case, abortions were illegal, doctors who performed them were heavily penalized, and women were often forced to resort to unsafe means to obtain an otherwise safe procedure. Roe v. Wade was neither pro nor anti-abortion, and the lawyers and plaintiff behind it simply sought to allow women a choice, and provide safe access to that choice. Roe v. Wade has been debated on a national scale since the decision passed in 1973, and history has lost the humanity behind the case.

OU's University Theatre presents this show in their intimate Weitzenhoffer Theatre. This theatre space is set up with a square performance area, surrounded by seating on three sides. It provides an opportunity for the theatre department to produce unique, experimental theatre, and it's the perfect setting for this intricate and complex play.

Lanee Starr is passionate as Norma McCorvey, the Plaintiff in the case. McCorvey is known for her pseudonym Jane Roe, a move made by the lawyers in the case to protect her identity. Starr performs well as this complicated figure, bringing her down to earth and making her a whole person, not just a name on paper. Starr is perfect as the imperfect Norma. She's bold and bright, funny and dynamic. All eyes are on her, and she knows it. Starr has so much charm, it's easy to see how the world fell at Norma's feet. Starr is also portraying a woman damaged, beaten down by life and taking opportunities when she can. Norma is nobody's heroine, but she's not the villain in this story either. She is flawed and human, and Starr conveys that beautifully.

Nikki Mar is powerful as Sarah Weddington. Weddington was the lawyer representing Jane Roe in the case. She went on to write books and give speeches, continuing to argue and defend her case for decades to come. Mar is strong and proud, a force to be reckoned with as the young lawyer. Mar is convicted and convincing, proving herself and her cause.

Sarah Santamaria is Connie, Norma's girlfriend and life partner. Santamaria is compassionate and loving as Connie. If anyone is truly flawless in this tale, it's Connie. She stands by Norma through everything, never losing hope or her love for Norma. Connie is the one constant in Norma's life. Santamaria is open-hearted and kind, even when that unconditional love isn't returned.

Many of the cast members play multiple roles, and this show is hefty with dialogue. Lily Vanner, Jackie Simmons, Paris Richardson, Lucy Dismore, Rylan Price, Levi Hawkins, and Race Ricketts all show stamina and versatility while they play several characters each.

Dismore is particularly impactful as Mary, Norma's mother. Dismore is moving in her cruelty, lacking empathy and love for her daughter. Dismore is simply brilliant in this role, showing a range of emotions and acting chops beyond her years.

Levi Hawkins shows a comedic side to this dense story as McCluskey and others. He's versatile and amusing, adding some needed lightness in each role. Rylan Price is polarizing as Flip, the leader of anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. Price shows some candidness and humanity, making the villainous Flip well-rounded and almost relatable.

Lily Vanner is Linda Coffee, the second lawyer on the Roe V. Wade case. Vanner is admirable as one of a pair of young female lawyers. In this time in history, women made up a fraction of graduating law school classes. They made up an even smaller number of working lawyers. Vanner is inspirational as this historic figure.

Race Ricketts is a multi-faceted performer, always bringing his best to every role. As Blackmun he's outspoken and impassioned. He even takes a turn on guitar, showcasing lovely musical skills. Jackie Simmons is poignant as Ronda, well intentioned and heartfelt.

Simone Patterson appears in one scene as Roxy. Patterson is provocative and powerful, boldly speaking a truth known and suffered by so many women. Paris Richardson is solid as Aileen and moves seamlessly through various roles.

Middle school student Harper Johnson is a wonderful addition as child characters Emily and Melissa. Johnson holds her own weight in her OU debut.

Production director Nancy Bell has made smart choices with the small space and socially distanced blocking. Minimal props, a rotating turntable and on-stage costume quick changes make the show feel alive, current and impactful. It's also fun to watch, and the actors play each moment with humor and levity, breaking the fourth wall during each scene or costume change.

ROE is a fascinating play, and it poses important questions about what the truth really means. History, bias, media spin, personal reasons, and self-preservation all play a part in how accounts of supposed truth are given. ROE breaks down a Supreme Court case that most people are familiar with, but very few actually understand. It's an important work that opens eyes and hearts to the humanity of our own history, something that we continue to write every day.

ROE runs until May 2nd, 2021 at the Weitzenhoffer Theatre on the University of Oklahoma main campus. For tickets and times, visit theatre.ou.edu.


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