Horizon Theatre's 'Roe' highlights the women involved in the historic Roe v. Wade case

Jennifer Alice Aker and Rhyn McLemore in "Roe." (Photo by Horizon Theatre)

Earlier this month, there was a leak of a draft majority opinion from the Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision in 1973 that led to legalized abortion in America. The personal journeys of the women involved in that historic case are at the heart of Horizon Theatre’s new production, “Roe.” The play’s director Lisa Adler joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes along with actors Jennifer Alice Acker and Rhyn McLemore to talk about “Roe” and its stirring portrayal of the women whose struggle for autonomy defined American abortion politics for decades.  

Interview highlights:

Two distinct perspectives looking back on history:

“It takes place over 20 years. So it starts in 1969 and 1970, right before Sarah and Norma meet, when Norma McCorvey, who is ‘Jane Roe,’ is pregnant,” said Adler. “It goes to about 1995, and then there’s also a piece at the beginning and end that is today. And the conceit of the show is that Sarah and Norma, at the end of their lives, are looking back and telling their stories to you. So they come out and they tell competing stories about this is what the story of ‘Roe’ is. And ‘Jane Roe,’ Norma McCorvey, tells hers, and Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who argued the case at the Supreme Court, tells hers.”

Why we should consider the personal stories behind Roe v. Wade:

 “I was one of the, I think, many people who did not know that Norma McCorvey did not in fact have an abortion,” said McLemore. “I think a lot of people historically just assume that because she’s Jane Roe at the heart of this historic case, dealing with abortion, that she had an abortion — she did not. I mean, that’s how little I knew about her before tackling the play, and her story is such a heartbreaking, complex one.”

“The thing I realized as I was doing research is that this poor woman just wanted to be seen by people and validated by people. She comes from a very broken home, a very tumultuous relationship with her mother,” McLemore continued. “The big challenge for me with this role was, why the heck did she flip-flop? Why did she go from being so adamantly pro-choice to pro-life? And that’s the big arc and journey that I have in this play, and it’s a big ol’ arc, let me tell you … In the [FX] documentary [‘AKA Jane Roe’], it is revealed that on her deathbed, it’s her deathbed confession that she says, ‘I was never really pro-life. I was paid a bunch of money by the pro-lifers to flip-flop.’ She really was manipulated throughout her life.”

On playing lawyer Sarah Weddington, who argued “Roe” at 26 years old:

“Absolutely one of the sharpest thinkers I’ve ever encountered,” said Acker. “A lot of my research has been reading her book, ‘A Question of Choice,’ which, the clarity and conciseness of thought, but with the emotional nature of it, the human nature, the way she communicates and relates to people; watching her in video interviews as well, she has a sparkle in her eye that makes you feel like you’re the only person in the room. She really hears and sees you. So she was almost this uniquely poised figure. I wonder if she’s the only woman in America who could have done it at that time.” 

“I believe she also did the case pro bono, because no one would hire her as a woman. She was trying to get a law firm job and could not book it. We discuss that in the play a little bit.” Acker added. “So truly an exceptional figure, and she was an advocate for her entire life. She was an advocate for women’s rights before this case; that’s how she found herself in the Supreme Court in 1972 in 1973 … Her entire life was just defined by fighting for the rights of women.” 

“Roe” is on stage at Horizon Theatre Company through June 12. Tickets and more information are available at www.horizontheatre.com/plays/roe-play