‘ROE’ Review: Hilarious and Heartbreaking


Ron St. Jean Photography

Krista Farrell as Sara Weddington and Maddie London as Norma McCorvey arguing amongst other pro and anti-abortion activists during a town hall on the topic.

Amanda Pirani, Arts Editor

Content Warning: This piece discusses abortion, domestic violence, systemic oppression and other topics that may be triggering for survivors.


University of New Hampshire (UNH)’s production of “Roe,” an award winning play written by American playwright and screenwriter Lisa Loomer, begins and ends with obituaries: the obituaries of its characters, and ultimately, the obituary of the Roe v. Wade case itself. While its timing is all too on-the-nose, “Roe” was first published in 2018. The play, rather than focusing on the legal aspects of Roe v. Wade, attempts to grapple with the human stories behind the landmark supreme court case. 

The University of New Hampshire (UNH) Theater Department unveiled its performance of “Roe” last weekend, Feb. 22-26 in the Paul Creative Arts Center’s Johnson Theatre. 

Since its initial writing, “Roe” has gone through many edits, shifting with the United States’ ever-intensifying political landscape. This past July, in response to Dobbs v. Jackson, Loomer made some of the greatest changes to date. 

“About two months ago, we got a series of rewrites from the playwright, because she [Loomer] really had to rewrite the end of the play to make it updated to what the absolute current situation is,” said David Kaye, UNH professor and director of “Roe.” “The original ending was more ambiguous and it didn’t necessarily tell the audience one way or another what it was that they should do next. That’s changed dramatically in this rewrite.” 

Krista Farrell as Sara Weddington and Maddie London as Norma McCorvey argue over the history of their involvement in the Roe v Wade case. Ron St. Jean Photography

The cast was full of stand-out performances, but second year Maddie London’s portrayal of Norma McCorvey, best known through history by her pseudonym, “Jane Roe,” takes the cake. With equal parts spunk and sensitivity, London manages to establish Norma as an endearing anti-hero. A poor, working-class Texan, Norma seeks an abortion after losing custody of her first child and giving her second up for adoption. 

Thus enters Sarah Weddington, a 26 year-old Texas lawyer hoping to legalize abortion despite never having tried a legal case. Played by UNH third year Krista Farrell, Sarah takes up Norma as a client in a case against the Dallas District Attorney, Henry Wade. Farrell does well to portray the well-intentioned but often morally complicated lawyer, whose relationship to Norma sours as her case progresses. 

Other notable roles include second year Olivia Ketler as McCorvey’s long-term partner Connie Gonzales and Senior Joe Solari as evangelical christian minister Flip Benham. 

Ron St. Jean Photography

There is little patience for modesty in “Roe.” Instead, the subject matter is addressed with a sense of nonchalance that bodes well for its humor. In one scene, a group of feminists discuss graphically how to find their cervix. In another, Norma McCorvey appears to be cutting lines of coke while shamelessly declaring, “What? It was the 80s!” 

“Roe” makes room for the messy aspects of humanity which entangle the Supreme Court case. Its characters often break the fourth wall to reference their Wikipedia page, or books they would publish later in life, to acknowledge the conflicting accounts of history on both sides. It seems self-aware that while its characters fight for who is politically and historically “right,” this answer is not as important as the process of getting there. 

This theme is best captured in Sarah Weddington’s bitter closing remark, where she asks, “The truth – whose?” 

The play, while demonstrating a stake in its subject matter, refrains from offering its praises to any particular group or individual. Even characters such as Flip Benham, evangelical priest and president of “Operation Rescue,” an anti-abortion organization, are given their due depth and sensitivity. 

Norma is treated with a gentleness which those around her scarcely offer. Her story reveals she is as deeply flawed as she is unlucky, struggling through a life of abuse, rape, poverty and oppression. 

This is achieved most poignantly in London’s final scene as Norma McCorvey. 

Characters condemn Norma as self-serving, due to her movement to and from abortion activist to evangelical pro-life advocate. Norma addresses the hypocrisy of these attacks head-on. 

“So what if I was [only pro-Norma],” she cries out in rage. “This country never gave a s—t about me.”

In these lines, London-as-Norma points out the startling truth of Roe’s complex history: all sides failed Norma, a poor, working class woman. 

Weddington knows of resources to obtain an illegal abortion but fails to provide them to Norma at the risk of compromising her case. Norma’s mother is abusive and likely sparks her life-long struggle with substance abuse. Doctors blame Norma for “getting herself pregnant.” Feminist activists and evangelicals alike use Norma for clout with little care for her story or wellbeing.

In her new ending, Loomer begs the question: Will the country continue to fail women like Norma today? 

“Your daughters, your sisters need you,” the cast declares. “Do it all over again.” 

The cast, lead by Krista Farrell as Sara Weddington, declares that the audience must fight for abortion rights once again. Ron St. Jean Photography