Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

The Waiting Room

Roe Focuses on the Women Behind the Abortion Battle


Norma McCorvey is a fascinating and complicated figure. As a young woman living in Texas, she became the “Roe” behind that landmark U.S. Supreme Court case when she filed a lawsuit seeking a legal abortion. In later years as a born-again Christian, she joined the pro-life movement and campaigned against abortion. Lisa Loomer’s play, a co-production of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Berkeley Repertory Theatre, arrives at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage at a critical time. Incoming President Donald Trump has promised to appoint conservative justices to the Supreme Court, a possible first strike to overturning Roe v. Wade.

Loomer is comfortable tackling controversial topics. She co-wrote the screenplay for Girl Interrupted, which starred Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie as women in a psychiatric facility. Her play, The Waiting Room, brought together three women from different time periods who meet in a doctor’s office, each suffering from undergoing cosmetic procedures – foot binding, corsetry, and breast implants – to conform to society’s idea of beauty. In an interview with the New York Times, she said that she initially resisted the idea of writing a play about Roe v. Wade, feeling that a court case “sounds kind of dry.” But after doing research, she changed her mind.


Sarah Jane Agnew, Susan Lynskey, Amy Newman, and Pamela Dunlap

The play focuses on the two central figures in the lawsuit, McCorvey and Sarah Weddington, the 26 year-old attorney who argues the case all the way to the Supreme Court. It’s 1969 and McCorvey, who has already given birth to two children, one being raised by her mother, the other, placed for adoption, finds herself pregnant for the third time. Weddington and her law partner, Linda Coffee, have been looking to file a lawsuit against the state of Texas on behalf of a pregnant woman seeking a legal abortion. After an initial meeting in a Dallas pizza parlor, the two lawyers find their plaintiff. Because McCorvey doesn’t want her real name used in the lawsuit, she becomes not Jane Doe but Jane Roe. The lawsuit is filed against Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade.

McCorvey and Weddington are polar opposites. With her wild hair and worn hippie clothing, McCorvey, played convincingly by Sara Bruner, shows the effects of a hardscrabble life. Raised by her alcoholic mother, McCorvey abuses alcohol herself and has several run ins with the law. After leaving her abusive husband, she comes out as a lesbian with a lover, Connie (Catherine Castellanos). Weddington (Sarah Jane Agnew) is an ambitious lawyer in a field dominated by men. With her carefully coifed blond hair and conservative yet feminine suits, she’s able to charm McCorvey one minute and argue forcefully in court the next. Both Bruner and Agnew break the fourth wall, frequently talking directly to the audience about what is transpiring as the case wends it way through the courts.

Except for Bruner and Agnew, these versatile cast members move in and out of many different roles, never missing a beat. Particularly impressive is Susan Lynsky who plays Linda Coffee as the uptight assistant to the more polished Weddington, trransforms into a zealous supporter of the abortion movement, then shows up as a timid pregnant woman. Jim Abele, who plays Weddington’s strait-laced husband, Ron, morphs into the Bible-thumping Flip Benham, founder of a pro-life movement. He not only breaks the fourth wall, but addresses the audience like we’re part of his loyal congregation.


Sara Bruner and Jim Abele, in front,  with Zoe Bishop and Amy Newman, in rear

After the Supreme Court ruling (Richard Elmore as Justice Harry Blackmun in a black robe reads some of the language from the decision to great effect), McCorvey works in a clinic, helping other women through the process. This is where her commitment to abortion begins to waver. Loomer skillfully shows McCorvey’s change of heart as a gradual process. She’s horrified when a woman who is six-months along comes in to terminate the pregnancy. Another woman who comes to the clinic for what will be her third abortion, receives an outburst from McCorvey that the procedure shouldn’t be treated as birth control. But it’s the influence of Flip, his wife (Amy Newman), and daughter (Zoe Bishop), that has the greatest impact on McCorvey’s attitude towards abortion. When McCorvey crosses to the other side, she’s a zealous pro-lifer.

While Roe v. Wade still stands, Roxanne (Kenya Alexander), a young black woman unable to afford an abortion, delivers a caution to those who believe abortion is available to all women. Final words are delivered by Agnew as Weddington, stating that the woman running for president, a supporter of abortion rights, won the popular vote but lost the election.

Despite that pro-abortion ending, the play provides enough ammunition for both sides of the debate. As Arena’s Artistic Director Molly Smith stated in the program notes: “If the ideas in this play inspire you to spark conversations with your loved ones, contact your representatives and become active in your community, theater has done its job.”

Photos by C. Stanley Photography
Top photo: Sara Bruner and Sarah Jane Agnew

Written by Lisa Loomer
Directed by Bill Rauch
Through February 19, 2017
Arena Stage
1101 Sixth Street SW

Linger in The Waiting Room


Aristotle posited that a perfect story is one whose entire action, the protagonist’s personal evolution as well as their physical journey, takes place in the space of one day. By that account, Leah Kaminsky would do the Greek mind proud. Her story, The Waiting Room, now the recipient of the Australia’s 2016 Voss Literary Prize for best novel, is a short but powerful work. Reading it feels a little like holding your breath after you’ve heard a strange noise, just waiting for it to happen again. It’s a tense and smart telling of one day in one woman’s life as she struggles with her family—past and present—and her work, all while under the nebulous threat of a possible terror attack in her adopted city, Haifa.

Haifa has been a place under threat in recent weeks, much of it evacuated after arsonists set fire to the fields and forests that surround it, and going back several years now it was the site of many bus bombings and other such terror attacks. But there was a time when Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel, was also its most peaceful. With incredibly diverse ethnic and religious populations coexisting between the Mediterranean and the Carmel hills, Haifa was seemingly exempt from the strife that plagued other parts of the country. It is in this climate that The Waiting Room exists, back in the 1990s, when what she’s experiencing is only the beginning of something different and ominous.

The Waiting Room is a short but powerful read. The ending is broadcast from the first page, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic—even if it does seem somewhat unlikely. Take it as an analogy for Dina’s psyche, the realization of premonitions too frightening to acknowledge head-on and internal monologues too upsetting to divulge, and it paints a pitiful but spot-on picture of how destructive angst can be. The collective memory of the Holocaust and the current heightened political climate are a fearful combination, one that I’m sure many can feel starting to wear away at their nerves. When you don’t know who to fear, only what, it’s easy to create monsters out of your imagination and mask them with the strange faces you pass on the street. Do it too much, however, and you become the monster.


We follow Dina, a doctor and daughter of Holocaust survivors, from her breakfast table, through the streets of town, and into the wanderings of her mind as she tries to deal with circumstances both ordinary and extraordinary. She’s heavily pregnant, misses her childhood home in Australia, has been fighting with her husband, has a young son she’s worried about… Things are not comfortable. And to top it off, she has her mother—long dead to the rest of the world but very much alive in Dina’s mind—criticizing her every thought, her every move. She’s incredibly stressed and feels like the world is quickly becoming a much scarier, much darker place (and through the lens of current events some might say we are well on our way). That no one else seems to see it makes it all that much worse.

Kaminsky’s writing is natural and clear, even when the situations she presents are not. She does an excellent job of describing Dina’s neurosis, her anxiety, and her stoic attempts to brush them aside and get on with her ‘normal’ life. But Dina’s life isn’t what many of us would call normal. She lives with generational trauma and family secrets that throw off her perception of people’s motives and the world around her while also living in a country filled with individuals who must live each day with a somewhat fatalist edge, knowing that at any time there could be a bombing or a stabbing that would bring their existence to a close but that can’t let them stop doing what they need to do.

The question for Dina is whether or not to pay attention to her apprehensions, to keep calm and carry on or trust her instincts when things feel wrong. How is she to know when these choices could have life-or-death consequences? It’s a question many people face on a daily basis, and one that others think they face. Then there are other questions: When does caution border on mistrust border on bigotry and xenophobia? How do we make sense of senseless violence? How do we know when our perceptions are ‘correct’ and when they’re lies we tell ourselves to make it through another day?

It’s a lot of weighty philosophy packed into one slim, light book, but doing the emotional heavy lifting can be a gratifying experience indeed.

The Waiting Room
Leah Kaminsky