Group’s latest play at Willow Theatre tackles eugenics
Terror. Disgust. Shame. Hope. A desire for us as a nation to do better.
Acc o rd i ng t o di re c t o r Brian Reeves, these are some of the emotions at the heart of The Playgroup’s upcoming performance, “Broken Angels.”
“The audience will never forget this play’s demonstration of the power of cruelty, nor the triumph of the spirit of an extraordinarily ordinary young girl,” said Reeves, of Wellington.
This courtroom drama, set in 1920s Virginia, is an original play based on the true Supreme Court case of Buck v. Bell.
Carrie Buck is sent to the Lynchburg Colony for the Feebleminded, and is the first candidate in Virginia’s new law to have the feebleminded sterilized. Saddled with a court-appointed attorney, she faces a room full of hostile witnesses eager to see this new law put into place.
“B ro ke n A n ge l s ” a n d its cast delve into the slippery slope of marginalizing and dehumanizing certain groups of people.
“This play is about eugenics and it’s set in Charlottesville, Virginia” said artistic director and Playgroup founder Joyce Sweeney, of Coral Springs. “It’s a powerful piece any time it’s produced, but we had no idea it would be so timely right now. Years ago, when we did it just as a reading, it got a standing ovation. We can’t wait to do it now at the Willow Theatre.”
The Willow Theatre at Sugar Sands Park in Boca Raton will host a total of six performances of the PG-13 rated show on Nov. 3-5 and Nov. 10-12.
It will be the third season at the Willow for The Playgroup, which is committed to showcasing only the work of local artists, playwrights, directors and actors.
Todd Caster, of West Palm Beach, is one of those local talents, and the playwright for “Broken Angels.”
“The play speaks very s t r o n g l y a b o u t h u ma n rights,” said Caster, who’s been with The Playgroup since its inception in 2010. “We see a woman having her right to procreate systematically taken away from her by the courts. It was a dark period in our nation’s past. We need to remember not to repeat it.”
Au t h o r A d a m C o h e n recently wrote a book about the Buck case — “Imbeciles” — that takes its name from the terms eugenicists used to categorize the so-called “feebleminded.”
Cohen, former member of The New York Times Editorial Board, told NPR “Fresh Air” program host Terry Gross that Buck v. Bell was considered a vic tory for America’s eugenics movement, an early 20th-century school of thought that actively sought to “breed out” traits that were considered undesirable.
“There were all kinds of categories of people who were deemed to be unfit (to proc reate),” C ohen told NPR. “The eugenicists looked at evolution and sur- vival of the fittest, as Darwin was describing it, and they believed ‘We can help nature along, if we just plan who reproduces and who doesn’t reproduce.’”
While doing research for this play, Caster said he felt sympathy for Carrie Buck. The more facts he uncovered, the angrier he became as he learned how her plight unfolded. He hopes those sentiments translate to the audience.
“Each scene is a piece to a greater puzzle,” said Caster, co-founder of The Palm Beach PlayMakers in Delray Beach. “And, as each witness is called to the stand, the stakes become greater. I’m hoping for each scene to be powerful. But, when Carrie finally takes the stand to defend herself, it sums up the futility of her case.”
The South Florida cast includes Caster, Bruce Allen, Teresa Biber-LoMonte, Jill Brown, Brian Dever, Rachel Swanzy, Nick LoMonte, Tom Turner and Megan Zwaans.
In addition to three productions per year, The Playgroup also holds monthly workshops, at the Glades Road Branch Librar y in Boca Raton, where playwrights can develop their projects and network with local actors and directors.
As for Reeves, he believes that “Broken Angels” is a “compelling demonstration that evil people, indeed an entire evil system, can be cruel to those who are different.”
He predicts that the audie n c e wi l l b e awe d a n d shaken by what they see and learn.
“Carrie is weaker than the system that opposes her, and it eventually crushes her,” Reeves said. “Ultimately, though, like a flower growing through a rock, we see her triumph.”
Playgroup members Todd Caster (from left), Rachel Swanzy, Brian Dever and Nick LoMonte rehearse for “Broken Angels,” a production coming to the Willow Theatre at Sugar Sand Park in Boca Raton in early November. “The play speaks very strongly about human rights,” said playwright Caster.
Jill Brown (left), Teresa Biber-LoMonte and Tom Turner participate in a reading during the first rehearsal of “Broken Angels.” Their Playgroup team only produces original plays by local playwrights.