Cast of You Wouldn't Expect.

August Wilson Center
March 26

2 p.m. & 8 p.m.

Courtesy of demaskus Theater Collective.
Courtesy of demaskus Theater Collective.

An award-winning new play exploring a very difficult and often ignored chapter of American history is coming to town for a special limited engagement at the recently reopened the August Wilson Center. A bold and informative play, Marilynn Barner Anselmi‘s You Wouldn’t Expect examines real-life events surrounding the North Carolina Eugenics Program, which sterilized 8,000 women between 1933 and 1973.

Presented by demaskus Theater Collective in conjunction with several major initiatives—Women’s History Month, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust‘s SHE SAID 2016 program and New Voices Pittsburgh’s Women of Color HERStory series—the powerful play focuses on a group of characters whose lives were dramatically impacted by sterilization that was undertaken in the southern state as part of a national eugenics program that forcibly sterilized some 60,000 women.

Playwright Marilynn Anselmi. Photo courtesy of demaskus Theater Collective.
Playwright Marilynn Anselmi. Photo courtesy of demaskus Theater Collective.

Exposing the fact that African-American women were disproportionately targeted during the North Carolina Eugenics Program, Anselmi’s intense drama centers around the relationship between two women—Mary Tom Walker (played by Amy Marsalis), who serves as a deputy coordinator at a local eugenics office, and her new assistant, Temperence Hedgepeth (played by Okema T. Moore). Audiences will find out what unfolds when the two women are “thrown together by the powers that be and forced to work with each other despite their obvious differences in the middle of a divided south.”

The play also features veteran stage actress Karla C. Payne (May Rivers), 17-year-old CAPA High School student Michaela Flood, British theater and film actor Richard Kenzie (Richard Banor), Carlow University graduate Shawann Gadson, (Nilene Cooper), actress, vocalist and poet Delana Flowers (Barbara Lynch) and Old Schoolhouse Players performer, designer and director Marcus Muzopappa (Mr. Kinley). Also performing during the play will be 12 dancers from Reed Dance.

A semi-finalist at the 2013 Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference, You Wouldn’t Expect was presented during the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, NC.

To augment the two shows on Saturday—and to directly engage audiences with the play’s complex content, characters and themes, damaskus has teamed up with New Voices Pittsburgh, the New Pittsburgh Courier, Chaz + Odette and The AP Collection to present several engaging programs, including a dinner, interactive discussion and a pop-up exhibition.

Chefs Odette Smith-Ransome & Chaz Smith.
Chefs Odette Smith-Ransome & Chaz Smith.

At 5 :30 p.m., don’t miss the “Dinner + Discussion” taking place in the August Wilson Center Café. For just $10, attendees will learn more about the reproductive and social justice implications of the eugenics program profiled in the play during a pre-show dialogue, and will be treated to a sumptuous meal catered by chefs Chaz Smith and Odette Smith-Ransome, who run the new Shadyside eatery focused on locally sourced ingredients, multicultural cuisine and a welcoming atmosphere. Purchase tickets (space is limited for the dinner).

Stick around after the play for post-show “Talkbacks” featuring artists and administrators from demakus Theater Collective and Treading Art and moderator Genea Webb of the New Pittsburgh Courier.

You Wouldn’t Expect runs on Saturday, March 26th at 2 p.m. and again at 8 p.m. The August Wilson Center is located at 980 Liberty Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh. Purchase tickets. Recommended for ages 18 and up.

Looking for more events? Read our 12 Pittsburgh events not to miss in March feature.

Jennifer has worked at the Mattress Factory, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dahesh Museum of Art and is co-author of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania. She also is co-coordinator of Handmade Arcade. Musically, she is in a band called The Garment District and is a founding member of Brooklyn's The Ladybug Transistor.