Roe v Wade 2.0: Making theater out of Supreme Court’s oral arguments

There is no question which side playwright Margaret Vandenburg favors in her play “Roe v. Wade 2.0,” which is inspired by the Supreme Court’s oral arguments in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, about the Mississippi law prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy

For one thing, the money from the tickets for “Roe v. Wade 2.0,” which are pay-what-you-wish, will be donated to the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion clinic remaining in Mississippi, and one of the parties in the Supreme Court case that is likely (based on a leaked draft) to result in the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction.

The 75-minute play, which is being presented online through July 1,  is labeled a satire, and is in part a polemic. But it is also a less taxing — dare I say more entertaining — way of understanding the arguments that are more drily present in the transcript of the event.

The Zoom play offers some silly touches:  Carrie Preston, who portrays Julie Rikelman from the Center for Reproductive Rights, arguing against the Mississippi law, wears a crown hat of the Statue of Liberty. The actor portraying Justice Amy Coney Barrett is knitting bright pink baby slippers, Justice Brett Kavanaugh  is sipping from a flask of whiskey, and the two of them along with Justice Clarence Thomas sing “Ding dong the witch is dead…”  about the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. In what might be an opportunity to be an equal opportunity offender, Justice Stephen Breyer is shown hooked up to an oxygen mask.

But most of the dialogue in “Roe v. Wade 2.0” is verbatim from the December 2021 transcript.  The organization Roe v. Wade 2.0, which describes itself as a collective action troupe of artists and activists,helpfully provides a script of the play, with the direct quotations from the actual event in regular font. “Italics designate satiric additions, which really just say the quiet parts out loud.” (The collective is encouraging local companies throughout the country to use the script to perform their own versions.)

Some of the playwright’s additions are obvious, such as when Chief Justice John Roberts (wearing an umpire’s uniform) says: “The demise of democracy doesn’t mean the end of the conservative agenda. If anything, it enhances our authority. Nothing can stop us now!” And even more so an excoriating monologue from Ruth Bader Ginsberg come back from the dead (“We let this pomp and circumstance go to our heads—all the power we wield due, in part, to the dereliction of the other two branches of government, who dump all their dysfunction at our doorstep.”)

Some are extracted from the ongoing debate. The actor portraying Scott Stewart, the Solicitor General of Mississippi , says at one point: “abortion isn’t mentioned in the Constitution,” to which Justice Sonia Sotomayor replies: “The word woman isn’t mentioned in the Constitution, either.”

But even some of the verbatim comments are startling, such as when Barrett asks for the “secular philosophical argument” (my italics) for the distinction between before and after viability of the fetus. 

And much of what Sotomayor actually said, as presented in the play, is inspiring:

“What hasn’t been at issue for the last 50 years is a woman’s right to choose, the right to control her own body. Thirty Justices over fifty years have reaffirmed this right. Four have said no, two of them members of this Court. But 30 Justices have said yes, of varying political backgrounds. Now the sponsors of this bill, the House bill in Mississippi, admit they’re challenging Roe because we have new Justices on the Supreme Court. Will this institution survive the stench this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?”

After the play, there is an hour-long panel discussion with Aimee Arrambide, executive director of Avow Texas, Max Carwile, of Abortion Access Front in Tennessee, and law professor David S. Cohen from Drexel University.

Roe v. Wade 2.0
Written by Margaret Vandenburg 
Directed by Lisa Rothe & Jo Chim
Produced  by Morgan Davidoff, Jo Chim & Florencia Lozano 
Cast Carrie Preston, Cj Wilson, Florencia Lozano, Jo Chim, Joel De La Fuente, Johnny M. Wu , Kathryn Erbe , Peter Mccabe, Portia , Tiffany Clifton

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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