Bearing Witness: Journals of Actress Fanny Kemble Come Alive in Unbound Feb. 12-March 6 in NYC

News   Bearing Witness: Journals of Actress Fanny Kemble Come Alive in Unbound Feb. 12-March 6 in NYC
Prospect Theater Company unmasks the 19th century actress Fanny Kemble in a new play, Unbound, Feb. 12-March 6 in Manhattan, with multiple actresses playing the diva.

Laura Marks' play, conceived and directed by Davis McCallum, is adapted from the journals of London-born Fanny Kemble (1809-1893), the youngest member of the Kemble theatrical family.

According to Prospect notes, "Her debut as Juliet saved Covent Garden from bankruptcy, and catapulted her to the heights of international celebrity. Offstage, Kemble was equally notorious. She married, for love, Pierce Butler — a Philadelphia native and heir to a vast slave plantation. When Butler moved his young family to Georgia, Kemble's journals — previously full of a celebrity's petty annoyances — took on a larger significance: to bear witness to the horrors of slavery. Through seamless integration of text and movement, Unbound dramatizes the vigorous internal conversation that Kemble carries on in the pages of her journals, and chronicles her moral awakening in the face of the great political issue of her day."

The cast includes Sandi Carroll, Beth Dixon, Cedric Hayman, Laura Jordan, Austin Jones, Peter McCain, Jenni-Lynn McMillin and Michele Vasquez. All the women in the production play Kemble.

Conceiver-director Davis McCallum told, "I had the early instinct that we should cast multiple actresses to play Fanny Kemble, because the story we wanted to tell was the inward history of this woman, rather than a newsreel of the major events of her life. Her inner conversation — as found in the pages of her journal — that's what we're trying to put onstage. The dramatic event of the play is Fanny's decision to publish her journals from a slave plantation. It's a story about one woman finding the courage to bear witness to what she's seen."

Playwright Marks is an actress and writer who has appeared in principal roles at the Steppenwolf Theatre, Long Wharf Theatre, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, and many other theatres in New York and Chicago. "Fanny Kemble's life illustrates how easy it is to be complicit with what you know is wrong, and how hard it is to fight against that complicity," Marks told "She thinks she can assuage her conscience by going to her husband's plantation and seeing slavery with her own eyes. Her actions once she gets there are cringe-inducing and heartbreaking at the same time."

She continued, "Kemble's journals are wonderful to read — so witty and honest and engaging. Here and there we've used text from these journals in the play."

McCallum directed last season's The Belle's Stratagem for Prospect and has directed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Acting Company, Shenandoah Shakespeare, Georgia Shakespeare Festival, New York Stage & Film, and Princeton University, where he is a member of the theatre faculty.

"Fanny is a very problematic heroine — she's spoiled, selfish, vain, naïve," McCallum said. "But when faced with a political situation which she found reprehensible, but which seemed overwhelming and beyond her control, she didn't do nothing. She did something. That's why I find her story inspiring."

Designers are Sandra Goldmark (set), Naomi Wolff (costume), Lucrecia Briceno (lighting) and Fitz Patton (sound).

Performances are at The West End Theatre in the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, 263 W. 86th Street at Broadway.

Show times are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 PM with matinee performances on Sundays at 3 PM. There are two additional 8 PM performances on Feb. 14 and March 2. Ticket prices are $15 for adults and $12 for students, which can be purchased in advance at (212) 352-3101.

Depending on availability, tickets may also be purchased at the box office which opens one hour prior to performance.


Prospect Theater Company is a non-profit organization, founded in 1998 by five graduates of Princeton University, "in order to allow a diverse group of emerging theatre professionals to work together in pursuit of artistic excellence and innovation. Known both for its development of new musicals and its engaging interpretations of classic plays, Prospect strives to build bridges between artists and audiences, and to connect theatre's present to its past — in order to build its future." For more information on Prospect Theater Company, visit

A scene from <i>Unbound</i>
A scene from Unbound
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