“Kin” Tells Story of Eugenics in America
When people think of eugenics, images of Nazi Germany likely come to mind. However, the U.S., too, had a eugenics program, and one key part of it took place in the Lynchburg area.
Liberty’s performance of “Kin” shed light on a rarely-discussed part of American history by telling the story of Carrie Buck, a young woman who was sterilized after being deemed “feebleminded.”
Written by Jeff Barker, “Kin” follows Carrie, who lives with her foster parents, John and Alice Dobbs, in Charlottesville, Virginia, because her mother is placed at the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded in Madison Heights, Virginia. The Dobbs send Carrie to “the Colony” after she is raped by the Dobbs’ nephew and becomes pregnant.
The Colony’s superintendent Dr. Albert Priddy decides to use Carrie as a case to test a recently passed Virginia state statute that allowed people labeled “feebleminded” to undergo forced sterilization. Buck v. Bell made it to the Supreme Court in 1927, where the Court determined that Carrie could be sterilized without violating the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process clause.
“The whole fact is that Americans were just as involved with the whole concept of perfecting the human race just like the Germans, but it’s not something you really learn about, so it’s so important to talk about that and not hide that as a part of our history,” Claire Flores, the assistant stage manager, said.
For director Neal Brasher, the play’s historical significance with a local twist stood out the most to him.
“This is a play that is not only of great historical significance to the country, and the world actually, but here specifically because it’s something that mostly took place right here around the Lynchburg area in Lynchburg and Charlottesville,” Brasher said. “That makes it particularly compelling to me.”
To tell Carrie’s story, the play is set in the center of the Black Box Theater, with the audience surrounding the center of action and railroad tracks hanging from the ceiling.
“It took me awhile to get comfortable standing on a stage knowing that audience members were going to be on all sides, because it gives a vulnerability that was hard to get past at first,” said Laura Falcione, who played the story’s narrator—an older, wiser Carrie reflecting on the trial and the events leading up to it. “But after I got used to this, it actually lent itself to the vulnerability of the character.”
Brasher said that the railroad motifs featured in the set were a reflection of themes from the play that set designer Connie Hecker decided to include.
The stage sets the themes and tones of the show that deal with a historical issue still pertinent today.
“This isn’t something deep far away in our past that we can forget about – this is still affecting people’s lives, both like that town in Tennessee (where a judge recently offered reduced jail time for inmates who agreed to be sterilized) or just people who are still around from when this happened, and it’s sad,” Flores said.
Flores said she hopes the serious nature of the topic causes audience members to think through the topic and feel led to respond.
“We don’t want people to be walking away devastated like ‘I can’t believe this happened,’” Flores said. “We want people to come away from it with a feeling of contemplating this issue more and thinking about how it affects them, especially in regard to thinking about our history.”
For those involved in “Kin,” producing the play is a way to focus on a seldom-discussed topic and remember those affected by the U.S.’s eugenics program.
“I hope this play does justice to this topic of eugenics and everyone who has been affected by it,” Falcione said. “Every performance is, in my mind, a tribute to Carrie and those who were affected by this trial.”
“Kin” ran at the Black Box Theater from March 30 to April 8.