Fountain Theater revives “ROE” as a “political demonstration”

When the Supreme Court’s original draft opinion on the repeal of Roe vs. Wade leaked, Stephen Sachs, the artistic director of Fountain Theater, says he reacted immediately “to give his voice to what is happening right now.”

“As a theater maker, I wanted to find a way to use our art form as a tool for social action,” he says.

Sachs sought to give staged lectures on Lisa Loomer’s play “ROE,” which dives deep into the people behind the significant abortion case. To speed up the process, he contacted people who had worked on previous productions of the play and, in addition to local actors, attracted artists from Chicago’s Goodman Theater’s 2020 ROE production.

The “guerrilla-style, hyper-staged” reading, scheduled to run June 25-July 10 at Hollywood’s Fountain Theater, began rehearsals on June 16 and brought back some familiar faces from previous “ROE” productions that, like Sachs, were excited about the upcoming decision. During the evening performance on July 1, Emmy-winning Actors Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless will support timely production as co-drinkers. Their presence adds weight to Sachs’s notion that running is more than theater, it’s a “political demonstration”.

“The issue of abortion is one of the differences and most controversial issues in our country,” Sachs says. “Many of us already have strong opinions – one way or another – about it, but I don’t think many of us are actually aware of or remember how we’ve gotten here.”

A person in a yellow t-shirt walks on the outdoor stage of the Fountain Theater amidst people sitting under colorful pop-up tents.

Director Vanessa Stalling walks among the actors and crew of the play as they begin rehearsals at the Fountain Theater on Friday, June 17, 2022.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Sachs believes “ROE” will help educate and educate people about the case. The play tells the stories of lawyer Sarah Weddington, who argued against Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court, and Norma McCorvey (known as “Jane Roe”), a woman with a complex background who wants to end an unwanted pregnancy. It follows two women after a historic 1973 decision and reflects on a divisive debate about legalized abortion in the United States.

Loomer’s play got its world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2016. He says it was a response to 2016 presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

“It started at the moment it looked like Hillary was going to be president,” Loomer says, “and now I’m talking about a moment that might be the end of Roe vs. Wade.”

In each iteration of “ROE,” Loomer rewrites the beginning and end of the play to match the present and connect with current events. According to him, in the six years since the play was shown across the United States, the cultural gap in abortion has widened.

“I can’t imagine a play that looks at contemporary history and whose Showtime has reflected such a radical change in our country,” he says.

Two women are sitting at a table in front of the manuscripts.

Kate Middleton, left, and Christina Hall are practicing “ROE.”

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

When opinion flowed, Christina Hall, who is due to give Weddington a lecture, says she was in “shocked silence.”

“I couldn’t even talk about it,” Hall says, adding that it felt like a “step back.”

He says he joined the reading to highlight the Roe vs. Wade story after re-appearing in the 2020 production of Goodman Theater. He hopes the reading can “remind everyone of this meaning.”

“This is about respecting the heritage of our ancestors,” he says. “It’s about respecting the legacy of our daughters. It’s about guiding the way forward, as well as learning where we came from.”

Kate Middleton, who plays McCorvey, sees education as a key role in “ROE.” To him, “Knowledge is key.

“The play is written to show both sides of the controversy, and it was done well,” Middleton says, adding: “This very important story needs to be informed and [its] history, and then people can make their decisions based on it. “

By exploring the complex story of how McCorvey was involved in the incident and his attitude afterwards, the public sees varying opinions about the abortion debate. Middleton says he wants reading to make people work, especially after spending more than two years in a pandemic.

“The fact that this thing has been brought back to the table at this point is horrible to me after all that everyone has experienced,” he says.

A woman in a blue T-shirt and jeans is sitting at a table with a script.

Kate Middleton plays Norma McCorvey, aka “Jane Roea,” in “ROE”.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Sachs turns to the theater to address critical issues such as abortion rights. He says his goal is to create a “gathering place for Los Angeles residents” through a series of readings.

“It’s one thing to read from a newspaper or watch it in the news, but seeing people on these real-life topics in front of you personally humanizes these great social challenges in a way that’s unique to theater. “he explains.

To make the bitter reality easier to swallow, Loomer uses comedy in the play to humanize the characters and raise the question of abortion rights on a personal level. Director Vanessa Stalling says the comedy provides viewers with a unifying moment of thought.

“When there’s room in your brain to laugh, there’s room in your brain to think,” Stalling says.

After the first day of rehearsal, Stalling says the looming Supreme Court statement brings a new lens to the play.

“The play just resonates differently,” he says. “You hear the speeches a little differently now that you know Roen [vs. Wade] may be absent. “

Seen from behind, one woman is a gesture to three women sitting at a table facing her.

Director Vanessa Stalling will be working with Seated Actresses Kate Middleton, Christina Hall and Susan Lynskey at the “ROE” Fountain Theater on Friday, June 17, 2022.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Actors take over the Fountain Theater’s outdoor space to revive the characters in the “ROE” and the monumental case of U.S. history, Sachs is working to create a safe space for Angelenos to consider drastic changes to abortion rights.

“I really believe in catching lightning in a bottle and creating a theater for a while,” Sachs says.

The series of readings was born out of an accelerated process that was achieved only with passion for the cause.

“Artists are angry and scared and don’t want to feel hopeless or helpless,” he says. “And this is the way we do what we do artistically to give voice to this critical issue for women.”

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