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Play about Ireland's dirty secret
A chance viewing of a documentary film on the Magdalen asylums in Ireland prompted Central Wyoming College Theater Director Mike Myers to bring the story to Wyoming.
“I wanted to do a play about this,” he said, referring to the little known institutions that imprisoned “fallen” women for becoming pregnant out of wedlock. He was so adamant about sharing the story he planned to write a play if he couldn’t find one on the subject.
His research led him to two different plays and he decided on staging The Magdalen Whitewash, a play by Valerie Goodwin that has only been produced in the U.S. twice. The December production will be only the third time the show has been seen in the U.S. It opens in the CWC Robert A. Peck Arts Center Theatre with a 2:30 p.m. matinee on Dec. 2 and again Dec. 6, 7 and 8 with a 7:30 p.m. curtain call.
Myers happened on a 1998 documentary entitled Sex in a Cold Climate that presented the stories of four women interred in various Magdalen asylums for not only out-of-wedlock pregnancies but for being sexually assaulted or abused by relatives or because they were just too pretty and alluring to men.
The documentary was an expose of the cruelty and abuse suffered by inmates of the laundries where they were made to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, for no pay.
“I was enraged by it,” Myers said of the documentary, especially because the practice of enslaving these young girls continued up until 1996. Initially the mission of the asylums was often to rehabilitate women back into society, but by the early 20th Century the homes had become increasingly punitive and prison-like.
Named for St. Mary Magdalene, the inmates of the asylums in Ireland were required to work, primarily in laundries, since the facilities were self-supporting and were not funded by either the state or the church. It has been estimated that up to 30,000 women passed through such laundries in Ireland and the last Magdalen asylum was closed in 1996.
“This was not in the old days,” Myers said of the asylums that were originally founded in the early 1800s. “My students were alive when the last one closed.” Myers feels he is well versed in history, but up until he saw the documentary a year ago, he was not aware of the institutions.
“If it hadn’t been for the documentary, people today might have never known about it,” he said.
The Goodwin play focuses on eight of the “Maggies,” as the women and girls were labeled. “It was quite well received,” Myers said, referring to reviews of the play in Europe.
The Maggies were branded as sinners and locked away in the laundries to wash away the stain. The pregnant women never got to be with the babies as they would be taken from them immediately after they were born, Myers said.
“It was horrendous,” Myers said. “It made me so mad.” Often these women were never released from the asylums and were buried in unmarked graves.
The Magdalen Whitewash’s central character is incest victim Mary, who the audience will see in 1919 when she arrives at the asylum at age 13. She will be played by 13-year-old Riverton Middle School student Kirsten Dorn, who has been acting professionally since the age of seven and has been in six made-for-TV movies. This is the third time Kirsten has appeared in CWC productions. We will also see Mary in 1934, and she will be played by CWC student Amanda Hessler.
Other “Maggies” are played by Briana Burlingham, Kimmie Lia Baxter, Katie Wagner, Shanelle Anderson, Rae Dawn Bennett, Anika Greenhalgh and Maille Gray.
“This play is actually tame in the depiction in how they were treated,” Myers said. “It was actually much worse.”
Other cast members include Taylar Stagner, Seth Finley, Daneile Hardison, Marcia Himes, Grace Kinder, Jennifer Neely, Erika Dierking (DeBoer), Brittany Dwyer, Cody Mock, Quincie Cowell, Laurence Miles, Nathaniel Esposito, Zedikiah Mills, Seth Finley, and Kristi Dorn-Billin.
Considering the subject matter, Myers promises this powerful play will surely entertain CWC audiences with a compelling story.
Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for seniors and children. Order tickets online at www.tickets.cwc.edu or call the CWC Box Office to reserve your ticket: 855-2002.