Behind the Sheet

Play title: Behind the Sheet

Author (s): Charly Evon Simpson

Publisher: Dramatists Play Service

Publication Date: October 23rd, 2019

Funder: Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

Genre: Historical/Drama

Primary Discipline: Medicine

Secondary Discipline: Technology

Scientist (s) & Historical Figures:

Dr. George Barry is based on Dr. James Marion Sims, known as the ‘Father of Gynecology’. Dr. Sim’s conducted experimental surgeries on enslaved women without anesthesia or any other numbing agent – even though the technology existed to do so. 

Philomena is based on a 17 enslaved woman named Anarcha, she was the first of his slaves to have a successful operation. She underwent 30 operations before he perfected his method. 

Source Texts:

Character Breakdown:

Philomena – black, enslaved, pregnant, an assistant to George in the Operating room (The black character often call her Mena. The white characters often call her Philo, which is pronounced like Fill-Oh)

Dinah – black, enslaved, diagnosed with a fistula and is brought to George for held

Sally – black, enslaved, has a fistula

Mary – black, enslaved, has a fistula

Betty – black, enslaved, assists George when Philomena no longer can

Lewis – black, enslaved, in love with Philomena (doubles with Benjamin)

George – white, plantation owner and doctor

Josephine – white, George’s wife

Samuel – white, George’s assistant, a doctor in training (doubles with Edward)

Benjamin – black, a slave of Edward’s (doubles with Lewis)

Edward – white, nearby plantation owner, Dinah’s owner (doubles with Samuel)

(Character Breakdown provided by playtext)

Setting: Alabama

We see a number of locations around George’s Alabama plantation: a makeshift waiting area – possibly separated by a sheet, a room where operations happen, slave quarters, Josephine’s room, George’s study, and after the interlude, a sick house. All of these areas can be just slightly hinted at. A table and some chairs can go a long way.

(Setting provided by play text)

Time Period: 1846-1848

Synopsis of Play: In the 1840s Alabama, Dr. George Barry is on the verge of a miraculous cure: treatment for fistulas, a common but painful complication of childbirth. To achieve his medical breakthrough, Dr. Barry performs experimental surgeries on a group of enslaved women afflicted with the condition. Based on the true story of Dr. J. Marion Sims, the “father of modern gynecology,” Behind the Sheet remembers the forgotten women who made his achievement possible, and the pain they endured in the process.

(Synopsis provided by Dramatists Play Service)

First Performance Date: January 9th. 2019

First Producer: EST/Sloan Foundation

Performance History: Premiering in January of 2019, Charly Evon Simpson’s Behind the Sheet was first produced by the EST/Sloan Foundation and was shown Off-Broadway at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. This original cast featured Naomi Lorrain, of Orange is the New Black, as Philomena. Most recently this work has been produced and performed through L.A. Theatre Works ‘Relativity’ series, an audio theatre experience. This audio performance can be listened to for free through the L.A. Theatre Works Relativity site (


Entered by: Anna Galanides

Photo/Visual Research with citations

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