Review of Roe - 2016 Shakespeare Festival - Ashland OR

(a fair play about "messy human beings" with significant ones left out)

This year the Oregon Shakespeare Festival did something quite bold: They produced a play called Roe which deals with the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that removed legal protection from unborn children. I saw the play last week with Fr. Jim Coleman, like me a long-time parish priest. With the caveat that the play has a lot of swearing and of course treats adult themes we found the play engaging and recommend it.

The playwright, Lisa Loomer, attempts to emulate Shakespeare who is famous for getting inside his characters and portraying them with sympathy. Even though she, the director and most of the actors lean “pro-choice” they represent “pro-life” characters in a fair manner. I have to add: far more fairly than the media who seem incapable of depicting us as people who have hearts or brains.

Lisa Loomer introduces Roe by saying “it would have been simpler to write a play with ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’” but that she was “more interested in messy human beings.” The play focuses on two of them: Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who argued Roe V. Wade and Norma McCorvey who was Jane Roe. The latter, abused by men, had become involved in drugs, alcohol and lesbianism. Pregnant and not wanting her child, Norma signs as the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade. The case proceeds but the decision does not arrive in time to abort her baby. She becomes convinced that Weddington used her and did not care about her as a person.

Norma subsequently gets a job at an abortion clinic and sees the reality of abortion: the tiny arms, torso, head and legs that must be assembled after the abortion to make sure no fetal tissue remains inside the mom. At that point Philip "Flip" Benham and other Operation Rescue workers reach out to her. In 1995 she experiences forgiveness, makes a profession of faith and receives baptism. Three years later her prayer brings her to the Catholic Church. About this decision she writes, “After many months of prayer, and many worried nights, I am making the joyous announcement today that I have decided to join the mother church of Christianity -- by which I of course mean the Roman Catholic Church,.”

In all of this Norma has a partner named Connie Gonzalez. While Norma's life is an emotional roller coaster, Connie provides a more stable presence. In becoming a Christian Norma renounces homosexual activity but continues a deep friendship with Connie.

As a parish priest and as myself a messy human being I appreciated the play. It did however leave out a crucial factor: the fathers of aborted children. In my conversations with women who have undergone abortion, the father's attitude is crucial - whether he accepts or rejects his child, whether he is willing to support the mom or not. Men who have experienced "lost fatherhood" can feel a deep wound and a gnawing guilt.

After seeing the play we attended a dialogue where I mentioned the absence of men. The actress directing the dialogue said she appreciated the point and indicated that she would mention it to the director as the play goes on the road to Washington, D.C. in January.

Fr. Phillip Bloom
Pastor, St. Mary of the Valley
Monroe, WA
September 2016


A Playwright Finds Drama, and Humor, in Roe v. Wade (New York Times article)

Through dialogue comes grace (Catholic Sentinel article on meeting Fr. Jim Coleman and I had with artistic director, Bill Rauch and other leaders of the Ashland Shakespeare Festival)

Ashland play crossed line of disrespect for Christianity (article explaining the blasphemy we encountered in Ashland play)

Anti-Catholicism at Ashland Festival (article explaining anti-Catholic stereotyping we encountered in previous seasons)

Other Homilies

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

Picture Album

MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru