Monday, June 27, 2016

Roe—Angus Bowmer Theatre (OSF)—Ashland, OR

“To Be or Not To Be…”

This World Premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is written by Lisa Loomer and directed by Bill Rauch (OSF’s Artistic Director).  The show is co-produced with Arena Stage and Berkeley Repertory Theatre and plays, in rotation, through October 29th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 800-219-8161.

…That is a Giant question, but a more complex one might be, when does a “to be” become a Being, a Life, a Person?!  This Tree of Existence has many branches, such as personal, medical, philosophical, ethical, religious, cultural, legal/constitutional, et. al. and one answer does not fit all.  But the real question boils down to, who should be the decider when a birth is not wanted/expected/desired, regardless of consequences/stigmas from many of the above mentioned “branches?”  And, the other dilemma, should means be available legally to end/abort such a pregnancy?

Part of the answer, as to constitutional rights, came from the Supreme Court in the 70’s, ruling that the unborn cannot be considered a person and that a woman, under the right of privacy, which is protected by the Constitution, has the right to make decisions regarding her body (this may be an oversimplification on my part, but I think it is the essence).  The medical community (as vocalized by an audience member sitting near me, a doctor) concluded that “Life does not actually begin till 20-24 weeks in the womb.”  The religious faction considers Life to have begun at conception, being that the Soul is also born.  Personal opinions range from murder (murderer) to a woman’s right to choose.  A corundum not easily solved.

This play examines all those issues and more, and it does it without being judgmental (thanks to the brilliant writing of Loomer!), which is quite a trick.  The only parts I found to have clearer paths are the fact that making abortion illegal does not prevent it, it simply drives it underground into unsafe conditions (just as Prohibition did Not prevent drinking).  And, except for cases of sexual abuse/rape, there is a way to prevent unwanted pregnancies—abstinence from sex and birth control, thereby making that question mute.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the core issues of Roe v. Wade because I believe the story is such a personal and emotional roller-coaster that it needs to be evidenced by a live audience, not diluted by me giving a summary of the plot.  In brief, it focuses on “Jane Roe” herself, Norma McCorvey (Sara Bruner) and her life.  She was a poor, uneducated girl from the South who already had a couple of kids.  She was chosen to be the “Roe” in question, I believe, because the lawyers, the main attorney being Sarah Weddington (Sarah Jane Agnew), herself young and untested, possibly felt that she could be easily manipulated.  It turned out nothing could be further from the truth.

The main voice from the Courts is Justice Blackmun (Richard Elmore).  The other very vocal faction is the religious Right in the guise of Flip (Jeffrey King), a preacher and his dedicated assistant, Ronda (Amy Newman).  Another driving force in Norma’s life is her lover, the ever-faithful, Connie (Catherine Castellanos), who sticks by her through thick and thin.  And finally, there is the voice from the “future,” Roxanne (Nemuna Ceesay), a student of today, trying to make out what it all means for her.  The ultimate flurry of activity, of course, because of electronic interactions, is the ever-present and ever-powerful Media, which is constantly looking for stories to boost their ratings, not necessarily the Truth and, in the end, all factions are being manipulated/used/abused by our beloved social and news media (not unlike the O.J. Simpson trial/”circus”).  “What Fools we Mortals be!”

The rest of the ensemble is also exceptional:  Gina Daniels, Susan Lynskey, Kate Mulligan, Barret O’Brien, and Zoe Bishop.  “These few, these precious few…” play all the other, couple dozen parts as well, and they are super, and Bruner, as “Roe” is amazing!  Rauch is a Master, as he moves from one issue/person to another without losing focus of the through-line of the story and yet keeping each incident/event clear for the audience, so that they are not confused as to who’s who and what’s what.  Throughout the play the audience was applauding, cheering or booing at various stages, as they were completely captivated and rapt by the proceedings and gave the cast a well-deserved standing ovation at the end.

This has Broadway-bound written all over it and, I hope, that at least, Rauch, as director and Bruner, as “Roe,” could be included in that package.  In case you haven’t guessed, I highly recommend this play—it’s not to be missed!  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Ashland Experience part III

It is always worthwhile on a sunny day to dine along the creek.  While there, my friend Dave and I ate at Louie’s ( ), 41 N. Main St. (dining inside or on the creek) 541-482-9701, which has an extensive menu, now including gluten-free, organic and vegetarian options.

We also always eat at Caldera Tap House (on the creek or inside), 31 Water St., 541-482-7468  They have traditional pub food and their own micro-brews, which are quite good.  Christian was our server and very informative and congenial.  Patrick Couchman is the Manager.

And no trip should be complete without a walk through the famous, Lithia Park, complete with jogging trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, a creek and the ever-popular, duck pond.  It’s located just North of OSF.  I very much recommend spending some time there.

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