Eugenics is not normally a topic of discussion in our contemporary world. However, the larger portion of the last century was spent promoting, decrying, debating, or funding eugenics programs in the United States and around the world. Marilynn Barner Anselmi’s excellent play, You Wouldn’t Expect, gives a human face to this ethical issue by following the stories of four cases of state-funded sterilization, as seen by the social workers of the Eugenics Board of North Carolina in the early 1960’s, which most often targeted the poor, black, and uneducated in an effort to reduce their population.
. . . The play crackles with life. . .
After speaking with Ms. Anselmi earlier this week, I was very excited to see this play, and I was delighted with the evening’s performance. The play crackles with life, presenting complex and relatable characters, sharp and insightful dialogue, heartbreaking moments, and a personal insight into the data and statistics compiled over the decades that the program to sterilize the feeble-minded and unfit remained in effect. We begin the play with Temperance Hedgepeth (Okema T. Moore), a college educated black nurse who joins the board as Assistant Deputy, under the direction of Mary Tom Walker (Amy Marsalis), a rich, white do-gooder type who instantly shines to the idea of having an assistant, which is not necessarily the job description Temperance had been hired to fill, though she acquiesces to Mary Tom’s instructions.