Late on an October evening in 1850, Fanny Kemble bursts into her Manhattan parlor—terrified and angry. Her former husband has published a scurrilous attack on her character and she fears this will not only danger her personal reputation, but ruin her chances for a new career—she just that night debuted as a solo reader of plays. To defend herself, Fanny proceeds to tell her story, utilizing material from her constant intellectual companion, William Shakespeare. She takes us through her dazzling youthful career as a member of the great Kemble-Siddons theatrical family, her marriage to prominent Philadelphia lawyer, the birth of her children, and the appalling discovery that her husband is a slave owner. Fanny recreates for us her life with her husband's Sea Island plantation. She visits the rice fields, calls at slave cabins, inspects the infirmary—and she is galvanized into action. She agitates for fair work rules, distributes forbidden goods, nurses the sick and injured. She even teaches a slave to read—a serious crime. In a climactic revelation, she realizes that "the misery of the slave has as counterpart the moral wretchedness of the master." Then she faces the consequences of making public her confirmed opposition to the slavery: divorce, the loss of her children, and the need to earn her own living as a middle-aged, single woman. This play is based on writings of Fanny Kemble, especially her Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation 1838-1839, possibly the best eyewitness plantation account.
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