Behind The Sheet

New York Times Critic’s Pick

by Charly Evon Simpson
directed by Colette Robert

Ensemble Studio Theatre

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


“But it’s the developing and changing bond among the slave women — and their different degrees of resignation to their lot — that gives the play its heart. Portrayed by Nia Calloway, Cristina Pitter, Amber Reauchean Williams and Jehan O. Young, they’re all first-rate. They convey a bone-deep familiarity with one another that is obviously the product of much thoughtful rehearsal. …Each of their characters has to some extent been defined by archetypal shorthand — the funny one, the angry one, the helpful one, etc. But the actresses here inhabit their parts with grounding, defining detail and without comic or tragic exaggeration.”

- The New York Times (Critic’s Pick)

“The actresses portraying these slaves break your heart, inhabiting their characters to the extent you don’t ‘see’ the work. Sally (Cristina Pitter) tries to keep spirits up with sardonic humor and spirit, in a creamy mezzo voice that projects confidence even at the worst moments.  Pitter embraces the stage with every sly look.”
- The Front Row Center

“The scenes between women simply talking are the most successful—even more gripping than a forceful kiss, an invasive medical exam, attending the plantation mistress and other instances of abuse that make us hold our breaths in the audience. Their conversations about their pasts, their everyday worries and their future hopes are filled with pain, poise, and sass when you least expect it, allowing us to exhale with relief.”
- Theater Is Easy (Best Bet!)