CHICAGO — It’s neither a conventional play nor a conventional topic for a night at the theater.
To anyone who cares about the issue of abortion, it is a play worth seeing.
Running through Feb. 23 at the Goodman Theatre, the Chicago debut of Lisa Loomer’s 2016 play “Roe,” is well done. It is insightful, illuminating and, while it makes you think, it also makes you laugh.
It is a busy play with crazy, winding stories that play out in creative ways on stage.
The acting is first-rate, with Kate Middleton leading the cast as Norma McCorvey. Many people might not know that name, but she was the young mother who was the plaintiff “Jane Roe” in the Roe v. Wade lawsuit.
Many might not know the 24-year-old lawyer who took her first contested case all the way to the Supreme Court, Sarah Weddington, who is played by Christina Hall.
But that’s the point of this play directed by Vanessa Stalling — to walk people back to the court case, its intent, even its words and the people who were part of it.
The play does bend left with an ending that feels more similar to a rallying cry for the next women’s march, but it also does a nice job going beyond the headlines — although those headlines often are part of the powerful scenery designed by Collette Pollard.
Still, we get a sense of the many issues involved with this polarizing case, and we are asked to try to understand what this is all about. Is it about religion, law, class, race or power?
We follow these two women through the decades with passages from the books Weddington and McCorvey wrote.
It is at its best when it is making us uncomfortable:
• McCorvey, who wrote a book, worked at Planned Parenthood and then turned her life around becoming a born-again Christian, speaking out against abortion. Is she being used by all sides as she struggles to figure her place in this lawsuit? Or was she just lucky enough to capitalize on an underserved celebrity? And if she is looking for love, not just fame, why does she walk away from her longtime love, Connie, played by Stephanie Diaz?
• Weddington kept at it defending this case for decades because it is so fragile, she tells us, it depends on the makeup of the court. Is she the fierce defender of women’s rights or someone who built a career on the back of one woman’s hardship?
• We watch McCorvey being turned to Christianity by Flip Benham, played by Ryan Kitley, one of the leaders of Operation Rescue, a violent anti-abortion organization. Is he a whip-smart marketer who knows a good headline when he sees it? Or a deeply religious man who wants to save McCorvey?
The play is staged very well. It moves quickly, with a few characters who are not much more than caricatures but actually add a nice balance to help us digest the material.