After Roe v. Wade overturned, play set in Englewood takes on ‘a different urgency’

“This is a great place to use as a diving board. No matter where you stand on abortion, there’s something in this play for you,” director TaRon Patton said.

SHARE After Roe v. Wade overturned, play set in Englewood takes on ‘a different urgency’
Actors perform ‘The Billboard,’ written by Chicago journalist Natalie Y. Moore, at the 16th Street Theater.

LaQuis Harkins (as Tanya Gray) & Margo Harper (as Dawn Williamson) perform ‘The Billboard,’ written by Chicago journalist Natalie Y. Moore, at the 16th Street Theater.

Zuzel Garcia/Provided

With abortion in the national spotlight following the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the issue is taking center stage in Chicago.

“The Billboard,” a play set in Englewood, wraps up its run this weekend at the 16th Street Theater. It follows a hyperlocal debate surrounding abortion and how the topic impacts Black women in particular.

Natalie Y. Moore, a WBEZ reporter who has written for the Chicago Sun-Times, began writing the play in 2018, when the abortion debate was on the radar of politicians but before the overturn of Roe v. Wade — and the subsequent loss of the federal right to an abortion — was meaningfully considered.

“It was relevant before Roe was overturned, before the [Justice Samuel] Alito leak came out,” Moore said. “There’s a different urgency [now].”

The play is fictional but inspired by events that transpired in Dallas when two warring Black activists installed billboards supporting either side of the abortion debate, sparking controversy.

Moore said the plot is meant to introduce an array of themes and viewpoints on issues including abortion, class conflict and generational differences.

“I think this is my journalistic training speaking — we don’t tell people what to think,” Moore said. “We tell them what to think about. … This is a piece of art, and I want people to know there’s not one particular thing I’m thinking when I’m writing.”

When it came to choosing the location of the plot, Englewood was intentional.

“Englewood feels like contested space,” Moore said. “These questions come up about who gets to speak for a community. … I wanted to show that this is a place where people are engaged as well and don’t want to be reduced to some of the headlines.”

Director and co-producer TaRon Patton, who owns GLP Productions and has been an actress for years, said “The Billboard” was unique in highlighting the disparity of health care for Black women while also touching on a variety of other topics.

Black people experience a higher rate of sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis and maternal mortality than their white counterparts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The play, which opened less than a week after the June 24 Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, has spurred a range of people to attend, Patton said, including Planned Parenthood representatives and a colleague who wanted to bring her daughter. If nothing else, the play is meant to spark conversations, she said.

“This is a great place to use as a diving board,” Patton said. “No matter where you stand on abortion, there’s something in this play for you.”

She added: “It hits all of the ideology surrounding these different topics in such a way that, if nothing else, you walk away from it thinking about not only your stance on it, but also your stance on those disparities.”

“The Billboard” runs through Sunday at the 16th Street Theater.

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