Vi­et­gone serves as a chal­lenge to the Amer­i­can mem­ory, which tends to re­call the Viet­nam War as just a morass of mis­taken strate­gies and in­ten­tions.

Pasatiempo - - LISTEN UP - Roe v. Wade Roe, Roe

In 2008, the Ore­gon Shakespeare Fes­ti­val em­barked on a 10-year com­mis­sion­ing pro­ject called Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tions. The plan was to en­gen­der 37 new the­ater works (37 be­ing the num­ber of plays Shakespeare wrote, more or less) that fo­cus on sig­nal mo­ments of the coun­try’s past as a way to il­lu­mi­nate as­pects of na­tional iden­tity. by Lisa Loomer, was born of that in­cen­tive, and it takes on a pip­ing hot potato: the abor­tion is­sue. The pro­tag­o­nists are the two women who were on the Roe side of the 1973 case, which de­crim­i­nal­ized abor­tion. One is Norma McCor­vey, iden­ti­fied pseudony­mously in the court pa­pers as “Jane Roe” be­cause a sim­i­lar case in the works al­ready in­volved a more stan­dard “Jane Doe.” She is the prod­uct of a hor­ri­ble fam­ily en­vi­ron­ment, is lead­ing a hard­scrab­ble ex­is­tence in Texas, is hob­bled by sub­stance abuse, and is un­hap­pily preg­nant for the third time. The other is Sarah Wed­ding­ton, a rel­a­tively un­tried lawyer who seeks a preg­nant woman de­sir­ing an abor­tion who might be­come a plain­tiff in a case tack­ling the anti-abor­tion statutes then in force in Texas. A fas­ci­nat­ing tale un­folds, com­pli­cated by un­pre­dictable shifts in McCor­vey’s out­look; af­ter serv­ing as the poster child for the pro-choice move­ment, she ends up em­brac­ing re­li­gion and be­comes an anti-choice ac­tivist. (Yes, this is what hap­pened in real life.) On the whole, these two women don’t like each other. is both a vast po­lit­i­cal epic and an in­ti­mate per­sonal story. Loomer lets her story leap blithely through the years, some­times re­lat­ing episodes as rem­i­nis­cence. Far from be­ing a preachy his­tory les­son, this world­premiere pro­duc­tion, di­rected vir­tu­osi­cally by Bill Rauch (the Ore­gon Shakespeare Fes­ti­val’s artis­tic direc­tor), is a feast of in­ter­sect­ing the­atri­cal ap­proaches, em­brac­ing song and dance, com­i­cal con­fronta­tions, wry ob­ser­va­tions of quaint proto-fem­i­nist rit­ual, even work­ing record­ings of the Supreme Court judges of 1973 into the dia­logue. The ac­tors ren­der pow­er­ful per­for­mances. Sara Bruner, as McCor­vey, is a tor­nado of er­ratic emo­tion, a char­ac­ter who is both hard to like and easy to sym­pa­thize with, im­prob­a­ble as that may sound. Sarah Jane Agnew, as Wed­ding­ton, pro­vides a sturdy foil for McCor­vey’s chaos; her emo­tional re­straint is in­deed that of an an­a­lyt­i­cal at­tor­ney, but her char­ac­ter seethes with pur­pose nonethe­less. An­other stand­out in the cast is Cather­ine Castel­lanos, as Con­nie Gon­za­lez, who be­comes McCor­vey’s les­bian part­ner (it’s com­pli­cated) un­til Je­sus says that’s not OK — and con­tin­ues to prop her up even af­ter that. Among Loomer’s ad­mirable achieve­ments in this cap­ti­vat­ing the­ater work is that al­though it fo­cuses on a hotly ar­gued is­sue, it is not it­self polem­i­cal. Dis­pas­sion­ate and even-handed, it sticks to his­tor­i­cal facts (while cast­ing them in an en­ter­tain­ing way), and it man­ages to put a hu­man face on both sides of a ques­tion that in­deed stands as a touch­stone of re­cent Amer­i­can his­tory.

The Ore­gon Shakespeare Fes­ti­val is at 15 S. Pi­o­neer St., in Ash­land. The cur­rent sea­son con­tin­ues through Oct. 30; phone 800-219-8161 for tick­ets.

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