Ophelia He, Contributing Photographer

Friday marked the end of the week-long run of a student-produced production “Marys Seacole” at the Yale Repertory Theater. 

The play is the David Geffen School of Drama’s first production of 2023. Directed by Leyla Levi DRA ‘23 and originally written by Jackie Sibblies Drury ‘03, the play is inspired by the real life of Mary Seacole — a Black British-Jamaican nurse who cared for soldiers during the Crimean War. 

“Marys Seacole” depicts Seacole’s imagined journey from mid-1800s Jamaica to a modern-day nursing home. The play’s title reflects its focus not just on Seacole, but on the many “Marys” that have gone unsung throughout history.   

Seacole is often overlooked in historical narratives, eclipsed by her more famous white counterpart, Florence Nightingale. Nightingale is frequently credited as the founder of the nursing profession, achieving widespread recognition at the end of the Crimean War.  Seacole, meanwhile, returned to London bankrupt after months of tireless service on the battlefield. It was then that Seacole wrote and published her memoir, called “Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands,” for an audience of white high society Victorians.

“It is at that point that Drury locates her play: in the gap between Mary’s actual life and the way that she wants to be seen,” Levi wrote in an email to the News. “She takes this gap between the ever-elusive truth and the facade, and finds there a Hole of History (a la Suzan-Lori Parks) or a Funnyhouse (a la Adrienne Kennedy) — a place where shame, self-loathing, internalized racism and misogyny are handed down in seemingly endless generational cycles. She asks: who gets to be cared for, by whom and at whose cost?”

Levi first read “Marys Seacole” last winter break in Istanbul while taking care of her parents as they both recovered from COVID-19. She proposed the show as her thesis project last January. The staff of David Geffen School of Drama students started rehearsals at the end of November and had a five-week rehearsal period including technical rehearsals.

Levi said she felt an affinity to the story in multiple ways, empathizing with Mary’s perspective as an immigrant, issues in her mother-daughter relationship and seeking support from other women.

“This play, about mothering, generational cycles of shame and the endless, timeless work of care across the ages, struck something raw in me,” Levi told the News. “Indeed, the play, written before the pandemic and before the eruption of the war in Ukraine, has many strange and uncanny resonances with our moment.”

Tyler Cruz DRA ’23, who played Mary in the show, also felt touched by the plot of the story.

“What interested me in the script is that it tells the story of a West Indian woman that has been largely erased from history,” Cruz said. “As a person of Caribbean descent that is an important and rare opportunity that I’ve come across in my acting training and career thus far.”

All of the actors on stage in “Marys Seacole” are women. Joan Barere, who attended the show on Wednesday, noted that “the feelings involved in being a woman” are typically pushed to the periphery of most theater she has seen. 

“You don’t often see a play that’s entirely presented by women, written by a woman,” Barere told the News. “That’s also very meaningful for me.”

Because the timeline of the show is not chronological, it is instead composed of eight fragmented stories spanning a wide timeline. For set designer B Entsminger ’24, it was challenging to design a coherent set with so many different time periods and locations.

Cruz said that the team was able to address many of the challenges they faced by going back to the script for close readings. 

“Jackie Sibblies Drury is so intentional about what she writes that most things can be clarified by going back to the script,” Cruz said.

Lee Entsminger, father of B Entsminger, said he thought the show’s execution was “amazing” with the actors, set, and all elements of production flowing well together. He said he was struck by how the show managed to unfold the “rich history” of Mary’s life while touching on important social issues.

“Yale is second to none in drama and so [I am] really pleased to be able to be here and  see a production of this quality with the students,” he commented. “What an incredible opportunity all these students have.”

“Marys Seacole” was the first show produced by David Geffen School of Drama in the 2022-2023 spring season. All patrons must wear masks at all times while inside the theater.

Ophelia He is a reporter of city and arts desk, covering Arts, Theaters, and Museums in Yale and in New Haven. Originally from Shenzhen, China, she is a freshman from Stiles majoring in History of Art and Cognitive Science.