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Reviewing “Behold, a Negress”

Reviewing “Behold, a Negress”

This month, I attended the opening night showing of “Behold, a Negress, performed at Everyman Theatre. The play is written by Jacqueline E. Lawton and directed by Tatyana-Marie Carlo. It is a story about love, passion, and perseverance. Marie, played by Hannah Kelly, is a white woman living in France who is in love with her long-term, formerly enslaved friend, Madeleine, played by Jessica Natalie Smith.

“Behold, a Negress” is a tale of heroism set during the time of the French Revolution. It explores the controversies of the time including the abolition of slavery and the beginnings of early feminism. Marie is an aspiring artist who is married to a Royalist, who eventually goes to work with Napoleon Bonaparte. As a Royalist, her husband wanted to reverse the changes made during the French Revolution, such as the abolition of slavery. Madeleine, Marie’s unrequited lover, pushes her to use her artistic abilities to spark conversation about feminism and slavery. Although Madeleine is technically considered “free” after the French Revolution, it is clear that she is not seen or even held to the same respect as her white lover Marie. Marie had married her husband to help mask the fact that she is in a relationship with Madeleine. 

Marie wants to use her artistic abilities to support the abolition of slavery and to advocate for women’s rights. Madeleine helps Marie make an artistic statement by sitting for one of her portraits. The painting sparks outrage among the public. One reaction to the painting by an art critic at the time states, “It is a white and pretty hand that has created such darkness.”

As the play develops, it tackles the topic of blackness and how it is often associated with a negative tone. We see this through the passionate monologue that Madeleine delivers when she realizes that Marie painted her skin a darker shade. Madeleine also shares her horrific experience with slavery and sexual assult in order to help Marie understand the importance of speaking out against slavery and utilizing her privilege as a wealthy, married white woman. 

“Behold, a Negress” is a riveting play beautifully captured by the two actresses pictured below (Hannah Kelly as Marie and Jessica Natalie Smith as Madeleine). The chemistry between the two is undeniable. Everything from the set, costumes, music, and theater ambiance made this opening night a memorable experience. I give it a 10/10 and highly recommend seeing this moving play during Black History Month.

“Behold, a Negress” is being performed at Everyman Theatre through Feb. 27.

Featured Image Courtesy of Genevieve Green

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Reviewing “Behold, a Negress”