Gemma @ 'Marys Seacole'- PRIVILEGE

What’s it about?

Marys Seacole is inspired by the real life Mary Seacole, a businesswoman and self-taught nurse of British and Jamaican descent. During the Crimean War, she was responsible for setting up a “British Hotel” behind the front line.

My experience.

I purposely went into this show as blind to the plot as possible. I didn’t do my usual research and I didn’t read any reviews that would potentially sway my opinion before I could even form one. In fact, having seen the show on the first night of previews, I couldn’t have found any reviews even if I had looked.

Before the house was opened to the audience, I caught a glimpse of a young woman in a nurse’s outfit, poking her head out of a door that was marked as “staff only.” I loved that sneak peek, as it only heightened my excitement when I finally entered the theatre and saw it was decked out to resemble a private room inside a modern-day nursing home.

Mary Seacole stood on stage, dressed in 19th-century attire. She confidently introduced herself and detailed her many accomplishments. And then, just as suddenly as she appeared, she was gone, and we were back in the present day.

An elderly white woman named Merry was lying in a bed, with her daughter, May, and teenage granddaughter, Miriam, beside her. May was determinedly showing her mother pictures in a photo album, despite the fact that there was little sign Merry was aware of her surroundings. Meanwhile, Miriam was glued to her smartphone and getting more annoyed by the second. This attitude earned Miriam a scolding from May, who said how guilty she would eventually feel for having wasted what could be her last moments with her grandmother. May wished Miriam would one day have kids who would behave just as rudely. Miriam then vowed to never have kids.

I couldn’t believe the amount of disconnect between the three generations — it was something I couldn’t relate to. I am closer to my mom than anybody in the world, and I have only positive memories of my grandmother, despite the fact that she died when I was young. Furthermore, there was never a time in my life when I didn’t want to have children someday.

Merry started making distressed noises, which May incorrectly interpreted as her being hungry, before deciding to cause a scene over her mother’s supposed neglect. She berated the Jamaican nurses (Mary and Mamie) who came into the room to check on her mother. I couldn’t help but feel for Mary and Mamie. While I understood May wanted to make sure her mother was being properly cared for, in treating the nurses poorly she was dehumanizing them. And her mother wasn’t being neglected. Turns out Merry’s pained sounds indicated a need for her to defecate, which unfortunately she did while still in bed, to her embarrassment and the disgust of both her daughter and granddaughter. But Mary and Mamie calmed her down and patiently cleaned her up, the perfect caretakers even after Merry hysterically struck Mary across the face.

Time and place blended together. Scenes would shift from the battlefield of the Crimean War to a contemporary Manhattan playground, with the same actors playing multiple roles. I was uncomfortably aware of my privilege while watching the show. I have certainly dealt with adversity, but my life has never been made hard because of my race, sexuality or American citizenship. While being both a woman and a Jew has set me back in certain ways due to sexism and antisemitism, overall I recognize how immensely lucky I am to have lived the life I have and continue to.

I kept thinking about the sacrifices mothers choose to make for their children, particularly when they don’t come from privilege. The mothers who leave their children to provide them with better lives, or send their children away for the good of their future. The Jamaican nannies raising white children while their own children are in a different country they can’t afford to visit. Carrying Ninja Turtle backpacks and organic snacks belonging to someone else’s kid. Subscribing to Cricket Mobile instead of Verizon to cut costs. Listening to well-meaning, if ignorant, white American women talk about how much they love Jamaica, even though their only exposure to the country was through a luxury resort. These women are all Marys.


Upper-middle-class white American women demeaning nurses from the West Indies, older white women striking the Jamaican women in charge of their care.

If people are being paid to take care of others for a living, who is taking care of the caretakers?

Mary’s life not only had value, it is worthy of celebration. And the same can be said for the lives of all the Marys who came before her and those who are living today. I have such respect for where they came from, the things they did, why they did those things, where they went, why they went there and for where they are now.

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