Horizon Theater stages story of ‘Roe’ as decision faces reversal

Rhyn McLemore (left) plays Norma McCorvey and Jennifer Alice Acker plays Sarah Weddington in the Horizon Theatre's Atlanta premiere of "Roe," a play that tells the story of the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. The show opens as a document leaked from the Supreme Court indicates it is likely to overturn that landmark ruling. Photos: Horizon Theatre

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Rhyn McLemore (left) plays Norma McCorvey and Jennifer Alice Acker plays Sarah Weddington in the Horizon Theatre's Atlanta premiere of "Roe," a play that tells the story of the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. The show opens as a document leaked from the Supreme Court indicates it is likely to overturn that landmark ruling. Photos: Horizon Theatre

Atlanta theater’s abortion rights drama occurs during critical time.

The uncanny timing at the Horizon Theatre, which will give the abortion rights drama “Roe” its Atlanta premiere beginning Wednesday, May 11, isn’t completely uncanny.

The Little Five Points ensemble planned to mount the production in 2020 but COVID-19 intervened.

In the fall of 2020, as the theater looked ahead toward eventually re-opening, co-founder and co-artistic director Lisa Adler had second thoughts about programming “Roe,” which was guaranteed to spark heated debate.

Then, a week before election day 2020, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed, solidifying a conservative majority on the court.

Constitutional law expert Eric Segall, who has conducted “community conversations” after shows at the theater, and whose wife Lynne is a member of the Horizon’s board, told Adler that Roe v. Wade would probably come under the gun. “He told us this decision is likely to come in May or June (2022),” said Adler.

“I said, ‘that’s it. We’re doing this.’”

As a result, Atlanta audiences will have a chance to see the genesis of Roe v. Wade, and the story of the unlikely pair of women who made it happen, within a week of the revelation that the Supreme Court is likely to overturn the landmark ruling.

At the center of the drama is Sarah Weddington, one of only five women in her University of Texas Law School class of 1964. She was 26 years old when she first appeared in front of the Supreme Court, and she had never tried a case before.

Sharing that spotlight is Norma McCorvey, listed in the lawsuit as “Jane Roe” to protect her privacy, who was pregnant for the third time at age 21 when she became the plaintiff in the famous case. After she published her autobiography in 1994, “I Am Roe,” she met activist and evangelist Flip Benham, converted to Christianity and joined the anti-abortion movement.

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Daniel Parvis plays Flip Benham, a founder of Operation Rescue and anti-abortion activist, in the Horizon Theatre's production of "Roe," a play that tells the story of the two women who changed reproductive law. Photos: Horizon Theatre

Credit: Horizon Theatre

Daniel Parvis plays Flip Benham, a founder of Operation Rescue and anti-abortion activist, in the Horizon Theatre's production of "Roe," a play that tells the story of the two women who changed reproductive law. Photos: Horizon Theatre

Credit: Horizon Theatre

caption arrowCaption
Daniel Parvis plays Flip Benham, a founder of Operation Rescue and anti-abortion activist, in the Horizon Theatre's production of "Roe," a play that tells the story of the two women who changed reproductive law. Photos: Horizon Theatre

Credit: Horizon Theatre

Credit: Horizon Theatre

Many of the details in the story of Roe v. Wade are not familiar to the general public, said Adler. “I am a heavy feminist, and I knew almost nothing of what was in the play,” she added. “And if I don’t know the story, there’s a ton of other people that don’t know the story.”

Adler, who is directing the production, said that playwright Lisa Loomer “did a ton of research. The play is both a great story and an incredible history lesson.”

Adler said Loomer clearly has a point of view in the play, which is a call for reproductive freedom. “It comes down to who gets to choose: The individual or the state? That is the crux of the conversation.” But Loomer imbues the characters on both sides of the issue with deep humanity. “She lets you see the honest passions behind the people that believe in pro-choice and the people that believe in pro-life.”

At 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 14, after the 3 p.m. show, Eric Segall, professor of law at Georgia State University, and Staci Fox, former CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, will hold a “community conversation” at the theater, discussing the issues brought up in the drama, and the possible repercussions if Roe is overturned.

Current events have made the play a vital course of study, but have also made it somewhat traumatic for the cast members. “Everybody is really upset,” said Adler. “They’re on an emotional journey. It’s horrifying, it’s disturbing.”


THEATER PREVIEW

“Roe”

Through June 12. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 3 p.m. Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays. $30-$35. Horizon Theatre, 1083 Austin Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-584-7450, horizontheatre.com.