Already closed | 1h 30m | Midtown W

Behind the Sheet

From 77 member  reviews
Members say: Great acting, Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Intense, Relevant

About the show

EST's new drama 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.  More…

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, "Behind the Sheet" tells how these women supported each other, and questions who, and what, history remembers.

1h 30m | Already closed | Ensemble Studio Theatre (Midtown W)

Member Reviews (77)

MEMBERS SAY:

Great acting, Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Intense, Relevant
84
Avg Score

85
Powerful, Great staging, Great writing, Resonant, Absorbing

See it if you want to see a thoughtful play that gives voice to those who didn't get to write their own history, and is excitingly theatrical.

Don't see it if you want a happy ending.

83
Absorbing, Ambitious, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if you're interested in forgotten history, slavery & medical experimentation with human subjects, fan of EST's science commissions,

Don't see it if you're not a fan of historical plays, upset by depictions of pain, blood & slavery, easily confused by multiple locations in a single scenes

89
Great acting, Great staging, Great writing, Thought-provoking, Intelligent

See it if you enjoy good drama based on history, presented in an intimate, well-designed space, with a good cast who make you feel the pain endured.

Don't see it if you do not like reliving times in which black people were treated as property and used in inhumane ways.

94
Absorbing, Great acting, Intense, Thought-provoking, Great staging

See it if Very powerful play about Medical experiments on female slaves. Part Fact with some fiction.

Don't see it if You have no interest in that time of history.

Also What happen may not be well known by alot of people. Its is so moving,... Read more Read less

92
Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if you enjoy plays based on science. This play explores the early days of gynecology and the exploited slave women who participated.

Don't see it if you are uncomfortable with how African American slaves were exploited.

66
Earnest, overly long production with no passion

See it if You are interested in a didactic telling of what I would expect to be a fascinating subject. Program notes made me want to learn more.

Don't see it if You want a fleshed our depiction of this subject.

Also It was well presented on an all purpose stage. ... Read more Read less

86
Unsettling, Great acting, Intense, Painful, Slow

See it if interested in learning of little known episode in 1840's of forced experimental surgical procedures on female slaves with postpartum pain.

Don't see it if you can't handle scenes of physical & emotional suffering.

Also Story is well told & beautifully acted. At times touching, at times ho... Read more Read less

81
Absorbing, Intelligent, Riveting, Profound, Intense

See it if Historical drama about medical experiments on female slaves . Intense and touching , strong cast .

Don't see it if Do not see if you prefer light dramas or if you are sensitive to viewing individuals in pain and a realistic portrayal of chronic illness.

90
Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Intense, Heart-wrenching

See it if historical* subject of how black female slaves were used for multiple painful experimental surgeries - the beginning of modern gynecology

Don't see it if don't want subjects of women in pain or blacks being treated as property

Also * some liberties/fictional details added - but they are well done and ... Read more Read less

90
Absorbing, Great acting, Riveting, Resonant, Intense

See it if You want a bit of history sprinkled with fiction about a medical breakthrough and the role that enslaved black women had in it.

Don't see it if You are not able to see a play that depicts a period in time where enslaved black people did not have the right to say NO.

Also This play was very interesting and informative. The performers did a g... Read more Read less

75
Relevant, Interesting, Superb acting, Insightful, Needs editing

See it if you are interested in the issue of racism through the lens of a fascinating historical episode with fine acting, insights & charactizations

Don't see it if you dislike plays that could use editing in order to lessen repetitive scenes that cover the same insights and messages.

83
Absorbing, Intense

See it if You want to learn more about a dark chapter of medical history.

Don't see it if You’re annoyed by any amount of clunkiness in writing (doesn’t 100% avoid stiffness common in historical plays) FYI theatre gets hot.

85
Great acting, Intense, Thought-provoking, Historic

See it if Serious theater, shinning a spotlight on unknown abuses of slave owners. Another horrific episode of medical abuse of blacks in America.

Don't see it if The facts are brutal and difficult to hear. Whatever PETA protests, this was more painful. Done by dominant people to weaker people.

88
Profound, Must see, Great acting, Searing, Riveting

See it if open to quietly intense drama about shameless exploitation of enslaved women to pursue medical success; bitter humor; powerful performances

Don't see it if wishing to remain ignorant of this brutality enslaved women suffered—but exposure to this silenced history is too important an experience

85
Relevant, Painful

See it if Intersectionality of slavery (white supremacy, Black = animals and suffering), women, women's health, and lack of/recognition in history.

Don't see it if Slavery, racist lines, or women in pain are triggering.The Black women feel empowered, but it's still a slave play where they're the victims

Also Ticket from website for $34.50.

85
Important, Great acting, Brutal, Intense, Thought-provoking

See it if to see fictionalized account of horrific period of US history. This story should be heard by all. Well acted, written, directed and staged.

Don't see it if you don't want to confront some of the ugliest legacies of slavery. If you can't bear to see painful subject matter.

Also The musical Hamilton asks "who lives, who dies, who tells your story?"... Read more Read less

70
Cliched, Good acting, Thought-provoking, Fascinating subject

See it if you like stories about complicated subject matters. That show the prices paid by women for advancements of others.

Don't see it if you don't like serious plays with a dark subject matter.

80
Great acting, Great staging, Problematic

See it if For the performances and production values - both exceptional.

Don't see it if You would have a problem with fictionalizing a character into more of a villain that the facts support. Read the program afterwards.

Also The bit about foregoing anesthesia was a bit misleading. According to ... Read more Read less

90
Absorbing, Profound, Thought-provoking, Informative, Masterful

See it if you want to see a profound exposure of historical medical events not well known that involve enslaved black women in the 1840's.

Don't see it if on a night where you can't bear the pain of how badly slaves were treated

Also This was a powerful play. I happened to see it the night after I saw t... Read more Read less

85
Profound, Intelligent, Great staging, Great acting, Intense

See it if Painful, excruciating, slow, powerful, rich, beautiful, extraordinary and sad, intensely sad. And worth seeing.

Don't see it if Enslavement, women's history, and the history of medicine are complex subjects worthy of representation.

Also I don't know how these gifted performers can sit in this piece night a... Read more Read less

75
Absorbing, Relevant, Thought-provoking, Intense

See it if you would enjoy dramas that reveal the medical mistreatment of black women slaves in the United States

Don't see it if you want to see a light, happy, feel good play.

Also I thought the play, at 1 hour and 40 minutes, should be shortened, as ... Read more Read less

81
Shines a light on a dark time, Believes theatre can right a wrong, Behold exemplary small theatre, B level title, Shout out to the director, cast, and designers

See it if you're interested in the story of badly treated slaves who served as test subjects for an ultimately heralded doc. Every element here shines

Don't see it if you're irked by plays that wouldn't satisfy if the events weren't true. The relationships capture our interest but not the imagination.

99
Exquisite, Great acting, Masterful, Must see, Thought-provoking

See it if You want to see great script, acting, staging, beautiful costume blended in a small theater. A masterful play on a horrific subject

Don't see it if You want something light,dont want to listen story of the slaves told from their perspective,medical experiment on slaves will make you cry

Also This is one of the best show I have seen in a long time. The only reas... Read more Read less

69
Does the end justify the means?

See it if You understand we can’t wish the past away. You accept the collective guilt of slavery and medical experiments on enslaved women.

Don't see it if The screams of women undergoing painful operations without the benefit of anesthesia. You can’t climb one steep flight of stairs. You mind

Also sitting very close to actors in a very small theatre-in-the-square-typ... Read more Read less

88
Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing, Cliched

See it if You enjoy well done tales of shared human suffering that are endured to lesson human suffering. Stories of the pain of being worth less.

Don't see it if You mind some slavery fiction cliches and playing loosely with the history. The play not resolving various threads.

Also This is an elite original off-off production that should be seen befor... Read more Read less


January 17th, 2019
"The production takes on cumulative power in its steady, cleareyed depiction of a time when it was a given that pain would be borne uncomplainingly by human beings regarded as chattel...This is, for the most part, a straightforward, conventional work that is not above plying the clichés of scient...
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January 17th, 2019
"With a sizable cast of nine actors, some playing multiple roles, the plot sprawls off into too many directions; the scenes about the doctor’s marital life and scientific experimentation aren’t as involving as those that center on his subjects. But it’s reassuring that, although the women fear th...
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January 17th, 2019
"Simpson is still developing her voice as a playwright...Each scene is a little too long and shaggy, there are a few too many characters, and certain plot points fall by the wayside. But Simpson must be commended for giving a voice to the voiceless and it's a brave, unflinching piece from top to ...
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January 17th, 2019
"Simpson’s hewing to the recorded facts does sometime give her play the feel of a medical-journal essay, but she has a few dramatist’s wiles up her sleeve to enliven the serious ambience. Her biggest achievement is creating three-dimensional lives for the suffering women...There’s no way of sayin...
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