We all know John Glenn became the first US astronaut to orbit Earth in 1962. But you probably don’t know the story of the African-American women who made that feat possible. In this movie—based on the book about Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia— Janelle Monáe, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer play NASA staffers who overcame racial and gender barriers to provide the brainpower America needed to upend the space race.
From Richard Nelson, writer of the Apple Family Plays (That Hopey Changey Thing and three others)—about an American family and its relationship to politics—comes a semi-sequel about the neighboring Gabriel clan as it grapples with the 2016 election. The saga unfolds across three plays—Hungry; What Did You Expect?; and Women of a Certain Age—in which political anxieties loom over the family’s internal struggles. The plays are performed individually as well as in a full cycle. $35 to $120; kennedy-center.org.
Louis C.K.’s run of local standup shows comes less than ten days before Donald Trump’s inauguration. Although everyone’s favorite melancholic redhead was a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter, in a Dallas show the day after the election he was surprisingly reluctant to talk politics. We’ll see if he snaps out of his political malaise for this visit, when he might help us all find the humor in life’s travails. $50; ticketmaster.com.
Part courtroom drama, part character study, and wholly pertinent to today, Roe—coproduced with Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Berkeley Repertory Theatre ($40 to $90; arenastage.org)—focuses on the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion and on the women at its center. It’s written by Lisa Loomer, also known for the screenplay of Girl, Interrupted.While the issues of choice and “right to life” have been argued since the 1973 decision, Loomer’s play has new relevance as we inaugurate a President who has claimed to want to overturn it. The playwright spoke with Michael J. Gaynor about what she hopes Roe will show audiences on both sides of the debate.
Your play premieres here a week before Trump’s inauguration. Would you have changed anything about it if you had known that would happen?
I am curious how the Washington audience will react. People are angry. Yes, they will find much in the play to rally behind. Some will be even more interested in understanding the other point of view. You ask if I would have changed anything: I have an epilogue that takes place in the present—well, the present has changed, and I’ve been making a few changes.
Trump has said his ad-ministration won’t challenge same-sex marriage because the Supreme Court has decided on it. The court did the same with abortion in the case your play is about. Why do you think this battle is still being fought?
For one thing, the issue has been hijacked since the ’70s for political gain. But why have politicians been so successful with this particular issue? There are people, like Sarah Weddington [the lawyer arguing for abortion’s legalization], who see Roe v. Wade as a matter of the law. There are people, like Norma McCorvey [Weddington’s plaintiff], who see it as a moral issue. These views are irreconcilable. For some of us, Roe v. Wade is about choice—a woman’s choice about her body and her future. For other Americans, the choice to have an abortion is murder; they truly believe that the law sanctions murder. That’s why the battle is still being fought. Then, of course, there are those who continue to seek to profit from the battle.