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Lisa Loomer's 'Roe' reveals many faces

The two women at the heart of Roe v. Wade — lawyer Sarah Weddington, who was only 26 when she argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, and plaintiff Norma McCorvey, the hard-drinking, wild-tempered bartender who became “Roe” after seeking to end an unwanted pregnancy — could not know how the 1973 case that legalized abortion would reflect the subsequent polarization of American culture.

Playwright Lisa Loomer examines the landmark case, the difficult choices women must sometimes make and the passion each side has for its cause. Her play is not polemical, but compelling, entertaining, thought-provoking, humorous and moving.

"Roe" previews at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, Friday, April 22, and Saturday, April 23, opens at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, April 24, and runs through Oct. 29 in the Angus Bowmer Theatre on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival campus, 15 S. Pioneer St., Ashland. Tickets start at $30 to $123. Show times, tickets and information are available online at osfashland.org or by calling 800-219-8161.

"Roe" is co-produced with Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and Berkeley Repertory Theatre. It is the newest play to emerge from OSF's American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle, a program that commissions plays examining key moments of change in U.S. history — such as Lyndon Baines Johnson’s presidency in Robert Schenkkan’s Tony Award-winning "All the Way" and "The Great Society."

“We produced 'All the Way' in 2012, a presidential election year, and to be doing another American Revolutions play during another presidential election feels vitally important to me,” says "Roe" director and OSF artistic director Bill Rauch in a press release. “Whoever the final candidates are for the major parties, there is no doubt the issue of abortion is going to be more in the foreground than it has been in years. To look at what led up to 1973 and what has happened since feels like something a theater company should be doing in 2016.

“The characters in Roe span from decidedly pro-choice to decidedly pro-life, and there are characters who shift their views over the course of the story,” Rauch says. “What Lisa’s done that’s so remarkable is reveal the humanity of every character. So wherever someone sits on abortion, I think Lisa’s given space for everybody to come and experience the story."

“I see theater as people sitting together in the dark to look at the human condition,” Loomer says in OSF’s Prologue magazine. “Perhaps to consider a question together. If we are really considering the questions evoked by Roe v. Wade, don’t we have to hear from both sides? I don’t kid myself that a play will change minds. It happens, but rarely. If we can open our minds enough to consider a position that is different from the one we brought into the theater — that is the beginning of compassion.”

OSF produced Loomer’s "Distracted" in 2007. Her other plays include "The Waiting Room," "Living Out," "Bocon!" and "Cafe Vida." She's earned American Theatre Critics awards and Jane Chambers Playwriting awards twice, the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays Award, the Lurie Foundation Award, the Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award, the Imagen Foundation Award and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, among others.

Coinciding with the run of Roe is the second year of OSF's Living Ideas: Art and Community Dialogue Series, a humanities program designed to forge connections between individuals and communities through collaborative programs driven by the works on the festival’s stages. This year, Living Ideas will present a series of events that frame Roe v. Wade through the lens of history (May 14-15), agency (July 15-16) and advocacy (August 19-20).

Sarah Jane Agnew plays Sarah Weddington in the OSF production. Sara Bruner plays Norma McCorvey. Others in the cast include Gina Daniels, Susan Lynskey, Amy Newman, Kate Mulligan, Catherine Castellanos, Barret O'Brien, Jeffrey King, Richard Elmore, Zoe Bishop and Nemuna Ceesay.

Scenic design is by Rachel Hauck, costumes by Raquel Barreto, lighting by Jane Cox, composition and sound by Paul James Prendergast and video by Wendall K. Harrington. Tom Bryant is dramaturg, Rebecca Clark Carey is voice and text director, and U. Jonathan Toppo is fight director.

Norma McCorvey (Sara Bruner, center) and attorney Sarah Weddington (Sarah Jane Agnew, left) find themselves in a media circus when McCorvey goes public as 'Roe' in the U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade. Oregon Shakespeare Festival / Jenny Graham