On January 19, following the 2:00 pm matinee performance of BEHIND THE SHEET, the powerful new drama by Charly Evon Simpson, audiences are encouraged to stay for what promises to be a lively discussion of many of the issues the play addresses, especially the history of gynecological surgical techniques, the rights of enslaved women to be used for experiments, race and gender relations in nineteenth-century America, and much more. Joining playwright Charly Evon Simpson will be Evelynn Hammonds, Chair, the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University, and urogynecologist and fistula surgeon Lauri Romanzi for a conversation moderated by Jennifer L. Morgan, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis & History at New York University.
BEHIND THE SHEET confronts the history of a great medical breakthrough by telling the forgotten story of a community of enslaved black women who involuntarily enabled the discovery. In 1840s Alabama, Philomena assists a doctor—her owner—as he performs experimental surgeries on her fellow slave women, trying to find a treatment for the painful post-childbirth complications known as fistulas. Reframing the origin story of modern gynecology, the play dramatizes how these women supported each other, and questions who, and what, history remembers.
The World Premiere of BEHIND THE SHEET is this year’s mainstage production of the EST/Sloan Project, EST's partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to develop new plays "exploring the worlds of science and technology," an initiative now in its twentieth year.
About the Panelists
Professor Evelynn Hammonds is a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. She is currently Chair of the Department of the History of Science and Director of the Project on Race & Gender in Science & Medicine at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard. Prof. Hammonds was the first Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity at Harvard University (2005-2008). From 2008-2103 she served as Dean of Harvard College. Professor Hammonds’ areas of research include the histories of science, medicine and public health in the United States; race and gender in science studies; feminist theory and African American history. She is the author of Childhood's Deadly Scourge: The Campaign to Control Diphtheria in New York City, 1880-1930 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, 2002), and, most recently, with Rebecca Herzig, The Nature of Difference: Sciences of Race in the United States from Jefferson to Genomics (MIT Press, 2008.) Professor Hammonds’ current work focuses on the intersection of scientific, medical and socio-political concepts of race in the United States.
Dr. Lauri Romanzi is an international fistula surgeon, urogynecologist and an advisor to the Office of Global Women’s Health of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Her international work includes academic appointment through Yale University to Rwanda’s Human Resources for Health, as well as long-term relationships with Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and with Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in Somaliland. She has worked in West Africa onboard Mercy Ship, throughout sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia as an academic collaborator to national and international healthcare organizations, and as technical consultant to the United Nations Population Fund for development of “End Fistula” strategic plans for Nepal, Afghanistan and Eritrea. Within the United States, she collaborates with global health organizations to advocate on Capitol Hill for effective fistula legislation. In addition to academic publications, she has authored works to inform the public, including Plumbing and Renovations, The Good In Bed Guide to Pelvic Organ Prolapse, and the chapter “Sexual Violence: Genital Fistula and Conflict” for the book Operation Crisis: Surgical Care in the Developing World during Conflict and Disaster.
Charly Evon Simpson is the author of BEHIND THE SHEET, this year’s EST/Sloan mainstage production. Her other plays include Jump, Scratching the Surface, form of a girl unknown, it’s not a trip it’s a journey, Stained, Hottentotted, Trick of the Light, While We Wait, who we let in, or what she will, and more. Her work has been seen and/or developed with Ensemble Studio Theatre, Ars Nova, Chautauqua Theater Company, Salt Lake Acting Company, The Flea, P73’s Summer Residency, National New Play Network through its NNPN/Kennedy Center MFA Playwrights Workshop and National Showcase of New Plays, and others. Jump will receive an NNPN Rolling World Premiere, with productions at Playmaker’s Rep (Chapel Hill, NC), Actor’s Express (Atlanta, GA), Milagro Theatre (Portland, OR), and Shrewd Productions (Austin, TX) in 2019-20. She’s currently a member of WP Theater’s 2018-2020 Lab, The New Georges Jam, The Amoralists 18/19 ‘Wright Club and she’s The Pack’s current playwright-in-residence. Charly is a former member of SPACE on Ryder Farm’s The Working Farm, Clubbed Thumb’s 17/18 Early Career Writers’ Group, Ensemble Studio Theatre's Youngblood, and Pipeline Theatre Company’s PlayLab. She is currently an adjunct lecturer at SUNY Purchase and an engager at The Engaging Educator.
About the Moderator
Professor Jennifer L. Morgan is Professor of History in the department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University where she also serves as Chair. She is the author of Laboring Women: Gender and Reproduction in the Making of New World Slavery (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004) and the co-editor of Connexions: Histories of Race and Sex in America (University of Illinois Press, 2016). Her research examines the intersections of gender and race in in the Black Atlantic world. Her most recent journal articles include “Accounting for ‘The Most Excruciating Torment’: Trans-Atlantic Passages” in History of the Present and “Archives and Histories of Racial Capitalism” in Social Text. In addition to her archival work as an historian, Professor Morgan has published a range of essays on race, gender, and the process of “doing history,” most notably “Experiencing Black Feminism” in Deborah Gray White’s edited volume Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower (2007). She is currently at work on a project that considers colonial numeracy, racism and the rise of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in the seventeenth-century English Atlantic world tentatively entitled “Accounting for the Women in Slavery.” Morgan teaches courses on the history of slavery, on race and reproduction, and on comparative feminist theory and praxis.
BEHIND THE SHEET began previews on January 9 and runs through February 3 at EST. You can purchase tickets here.