New York | 1h 30m | Ends Mar 10

Behind the Sheet

From 11 critic and 54 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Intense, Great staging

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.

Front Row Center

“’Behind the Sheet’ tells a story from the early days of gynecology...This absorbing play centers around a particularly debilitating complication arising from difficult child births...Simpson has crafted a drama without sensationalism. Given the unbelievable reality on which it is based, the restraint of both the writing and the intelligent, inventive direction by Robert is near miraculous...The only complaint I have is the pervasive haze...Nevertheless, ‘Sheet’ is not to be missed.” Full Review

Theatre is Easy

“’Behind the Sheet’ is a double-punch in the gut, equally disturbing as an account of medical history and a portrait of life on antebellum Southern plantation. Robert subtly directs a production characterized by earth tones and bathed in warm light. Considering its gruesome subject, the show is surprisingly gentle on the audience’s psyche. Eschewing visual shocks and focusing on human connection, Robert does justice to Simpson’s play and leaves a lot of room for the actors to shine.” Full Review


"Obviously, this is a play for which any sort of a happy ending will be deeply compromised, but what Simpson does so beautifully is show us how these women overcome their suspicions and envy to find support...It's tempting for playwrights to work toward such an end by wallowing in sentimentality. However, it never seems that Simpson, Robert or the talented women portraying these characters are pulling frantically at our heartstrings. The plot unfolds simply and satisfyingly." Full Review

The New York Times

"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 scientific breakthrough dramas of yesteryear...But the context, in this case, casts shifting, unsettling light on such classic elements...'Behind the Sheet' may be a quiet play. But its echoes are thunderous." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"The cast is exquisitely directed by Robert, who takes us on their journey. Simpson's work is powerful and...shines a light on the enslaved black women and a medical breakthrough that makes us question the costs of health.” Full Review


“I applaud Simpson for tackling a subject matter that hasn’t been explored very much...She’s treated it with respect, skillfully and objectively laying out the facts and letting the prejudices of the times speak frankly for themselves...Although the play’s resolution seems a bit fudged, the playwright has managed to create compelling, three dimensional characterizations that mostly avoid caricature...The production has been expertly directed by Colette Robert." Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

“Persuasive in subject matter, writing, and performance…Whether Sims's subjects were willing or not, 'Behind the Sheets' honors them as unsung women whose anguish contributed to women's health…Simpson takes various liberties in altering history for dramatic effect…All of the acting is surprisingly restrained, almost more conversational than theatrical, which works-up to a point. For all its realistic ambience, the…overall tone remains so low key that…it eventually begins to drag.” Full Review

New York Stage Review

"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 saying that 'Behind the Sheet' is an easy play to watch. It’s hardly mere entertainment. But Simpson’s drama is bold, deserving of attention and understanding." Full Review


"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 bottom. The amount of thought and care that went into its development is evident...'Behind the Sheet' may not be a perfect play, but it's a story that deserves to be heard." Full Review

Time Out New York

"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 that no one will remember them, Simpson has seen to it that they won’t be forgotten." Full Review

Must see, Masterful, Great acting

See it if I have seen many plays in my lifetime but this play leaves a profound effect on the viewers.While the subject matter was really horrible,the

Don't see it if If you don't won't to witness the barbaric behavior forced on Black women during their enslavement.

Also acting was superb.Every character in this play you either loved or hat... Read more Read less

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

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

Ambitious, Exquisite, Edgy, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if you're interested in learning about a true but abhorrent practice done to female slaves in the 1840's. Beautifully acted, and written.

Don't see it if There's no reason not to see it.

Thought-provoking, Great writing, Absorbing, Great acting

See it if you enjoy brilliant acting of a powerful play that explores a dark past in this country's history.

Don't see it if painful depictions of the past exploring the vile abuse of slave women is triggering.

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

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

Intense, Thought-provoking, Ambitious, Exquisite, Absorbing

See it if Little known historical subject matter that will illicit strong emotions. Totally memorable, stimulating, vivid performances

Don't see it if Medical procedures make you squeamish and you want something light

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

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.

Funny, Clever

See it if great acting, something i never new about, extended to 2/10

Don't see it if you had a long hard time delivering a baby

Masterful, Informative, Thought-provoking, Profound, Absorbing

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

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

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.

Resonant, Great staging, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if you like drama that feels lived and powerful​

Don't see it if you don't like watching physical suffering and medical surgery depiction on stage

Slow, Painful, Intense, Great acting, Unsettling

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

Intelligent, Great acting, Great staging

See it if you are interested in learning about the true heroes behind scientific advancements; beautiful production

Don't see it if you're not interested in a history lesson

Historic, Thought-provoking, Intense, Great acting

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.

Painful, Relevant

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.

Thought-provoking, Relevant, Must see, Intense, Great staging

See it if You are interested in plays that grapple smartly w history and center women of color while doing so; well-directed, sensitive and smart

Don't see it if You don’t like plays that deal with surgery, medicine, childbirth or vaginas (why tho?), or u r triggered by depictions of American slavery

Also If you are a white person, esp a white American, you should see this p... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Resonant, Great writing, Great staging, Powerful

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.

Relevant, Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Ambitious, Absorbing

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

Intense, Absorbing

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.

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Great staging, Ambitious

See it if you want a story that is sad and thought provoking. Great strides in medicine at the expense of innocents, so unfair.

Don't see it if you are squeamish about women "parts", the reality of child birth. If you don't have patience for maybe a not finished play as pace is slow

Disappointing writing/directing, Important topic, Go see it regardless, Relevant

See it if you want to know abt an important, little known dark side of our collective past. You want to support theater that confronts these wrongs.

Don't see it if you want subtlety, plot surprises or a documentary (it's "based on"). You'd be unsettled by somewhat graphic references to medical issues.

Also I'm really torn over how to score this. It's incredibly important ever... Read more Read less

Resonant, Great acting

See it if this play tells an important story, the actors are excellent, the production is solid.

Don't see it if I wasn't engaged by the storytelling itself, but I'm glad the story is being told.

Well-staged, important, slow

See it if The play had some riveting scenes and some moving ones, too, but overall the docu-style made it less theatrical than you would want, despite

Don't see it if some interesting choices by the director. There's an inherent predictability in this kind of play that wasn't fully overcome. Characters

Also were underdeveloped; there to serve plot. As a shocking, lesser-known ... Read more Read less

Absorbing although a bit pedantic

See it if -

Don't see it if -

During previews
Masterful, Intelligent, Great acting, Ambitious, Absorbing

See it if You want to know the real deal about how slaves were treated - subjects of surgical experimentation without any regard for safety or dignity

Don't see it if You are squeamish or want a whitewashed version of how medical advances were made.

Compare prices from $30

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In-house box office

Direct from the Box Office

Typical fees: $8 - $15 per ticket. Can usually choose your own seats. You can save on fees by buying at the physical box office.
In-house box office
$30 - $40

Cast & Creatives (12)