Six women stand in two rows. The front row features three Black women in clothing of different eras; the woman on the left is in a bloodstained nurse's apron. In the back are three other women of different ethnicities, also wearing clothing of different eras. A white hoop hangs from the ceiling behind them.
Marys Seacole at Griffin Theatre Credit: Michael Brosilow

Playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury had too many things in mind when she wrote this play about Mary Seacole, a real-life Jamaican-born healer who improbably served in the 19th-century Crimean War. Drury wanted to tell the story of this indomitable woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer, even from the equally implacable Florence Nightingale. She wanted to draw parallels between Seacole and modern-day healers, hence the title’s plural “Marys.” She also wanted to explore motherhood and the original meaning of the word “nurse,” comparing Seacole’s choice not to have children to those of the invented characters around her. Drury also wanted to explore the racism that shaped Seacole, including the self-hatred which caused her to emphasize the “good Scotch blood running through my veins” rather than her heritage of healing from her Jamaican mother.   

Marys Seacole
Through 11/6: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM, Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark, 773-338-2177,, $40 ($15 students, veterans, and active military)

Despite a powerhouse performance by Stephanie Mattos as Mary, there is simply too much going on here in Griffin’s production (directed by Jerrell L. Henderson and Hannah Todd) to form a coherent play. Further, the actresses’ frequent full-bore use of Jamaican dialect meant that much of the dialogue was lost to the ear of this middle-aged white lady, at least. And the final sequence, in which the cast members speak in unison about the fragility of the maternal body, would be very powerful if the play had clearly focused on that subject. Instead, Marys Seacole is a puzzlement, a series of missed opportunities to explore a range of interesting topics.