“Behind the Sheet” By Charly Evon Simpson

sheetBehind the Sheet
By: Charly Evon Simpson
Narrated by: Monica McSwain, Matthew Floyd Miller, Dominique Morisseau, Larry Powell, Devon Sorvari, Josh Stamberg, Jasmine St. Clair, Danielle Truitt, Inger Tudor, Karen Malina White
Length: 2 hrs and 7 mins
Release date: 02-15-20
Publisher: L.A. Theatre Works

This play is based on the story of Dr. J. Marion Sims, who is known as the father of modern gynecology.  In this play Dr. Barry is trying to find a way to close fistulas after childbirth.  To do so he is buying slave women who suffer from the affliction or are about to give birth.  His treatment of slave women completely reflects the attitudes of the times, in that he experiments on the women thinking they are lesser humans because they are black.

While the future has benefited from the work of the doctor, at what cost?  He forgoes anesthesia on the slave women because they are “less prone to pain” than white women.  All his experimental surgeries are done by having the other slaves hold down the woman get the treatment at the time and then opium afterward.  At one point another doctor says that ether is available for surgeries, but he says he won’t need it until he’s perfected his treatment and will then use that on white women.

How the women around cope with and survive the inhuman treatment is the story here.  They struggle to maintain their dignity.  During the listening of this performance I found myself uncomfortable with the treatment of the women.  If that is the point of this play, then well done, job complete.

I did think that the doctor, even though his name was changed for the play, was treated to nicely.  It’s pretty barbaric the way he treats the slave women as mere animals that he can just pluck out of the metaphorical cage and begin experimenting on.   Reminded me a lot of the stories coming out of the concentration camps in Nazi Germany.  I think I would have made the doctor more of a monster but he gets a bit of a soft brush when painting his character.

Disturbing, drama, and a spotlight on a time in history we all wish would never have happened, but we constantly need that reminder.

Again another great production from  L.A. Theatre Works that puts you in the middle of the performance.

Publisher’s Summary
An important medical breakthrough has a shameful history. In 1840s Alabama, a slave-owning doctor performs medical experiments on involuntary subjects – enslaved women – in an effort to solve the problem of fistulas, a post-childbirth anomaly. As the experiments proceed, and he gets close to a solution, the women try to survive and even find dignity in the face of inhuman treatment.

Includes conversations with playwright Charly Evon Simpson and Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens, author of Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of American Gynecology.

Recorded at The Invisible Studios, West Hollywood, in August 2019.

Behind the Sheet is part of L.A. Theatre Works’ Relativity Series featuring science-themed plays. Lead funding for the Relativity Series is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, bridging science and the arts in the modern world.

Directed by Rosalind Ayres, Inger Tudor

Producing Director Susan Albert Loewenberg

Monica McSwain as Mary

Matthew Floyd Miller as Samuel and Edward

Dominique Morisseau as Dinah

Larry Powell as Lewis and Benjamin

Devon Sorvari as Josephine

Jasmine St. Clair as Betty

Josh Stamberg as George

Danielle Moné Truitt as Sally

Karen Malina White as Philomena

Narrated by Inger Tudor

Associate Artistic Director, Anna Lyse Erikson. Sound Designer and Mixing Engineer: Mark Holden for The Invisible Studios, West Hollywood. Senior Radio Producer, Ronn Lipkin. Foley Artist, Jeff Gardner. Recording Engineer and Editor: Neil Wogensen.

©2020 L.A. Theatre Works (P)2020 L.A. Theatre Works