More Context

original artwork for Thomas and Sally

EXCERPTS FROM REVIEWS (bolding is ours, for emphasis): 

“2017 PEN Award-winner Thomas Bradshaw uses [a] theatrical trick to whisk us back to his fictionalized account of Jefferson and Heming’s decade’s long love affair. … [Jefferson’s] love for Sally is the impetus for both his quandaries and his legacy. … Thomas and Sally is the kind of history lesson we all wish we had in grade school. It seems very real even though dramatized for effect.” –Steve Murray

“Bradshaw has conceived his play as a love story wrapped in true historical political events, adding fiction, comedy and satire to the demeaning relationship of slaves to their masters in general and to Jefferson and Hemings in particular. . .  In this play he is a tolerant slave master, cultured intellectual, suave politician with a strong sexual libido .  .  .  Before any decisions are introduced, Jefferson has seduced Sally who is depicted as a willing partner although she is only 15 years old. Their sexual interludes partially depicted on stage are loving ones rather than a master-slave obligation. When Jefferson is recalled to America, Sally is already pregnant. The scene between Robert, James and Sally as they make their decisions is charged with emotion but not really satisfying. Nor is the penultimate scene of Jefferson’s pleading with Sally. It is an absolutely necessary scene that makes the entire play a love story.” –Kedar Adour

“[Bradshaw] is a playwright who has created a detailed, engaging, sometimes a bit shocking, and often quite funny timeline of our third president and the woman who was the love of his life for his final thirty-seven years.  That she also happened to be owned by him as his slave – although he preferred to call her and his the other of his one hundred thirty-plus slaves his ‘servants’ – is now well known by most modern Americans. However, few of us probably know the full story as so meticulously outlined in this three-plus-hour world premiere of Thomas and Sally now on the Marin Theatre Company stage.  .  . [T]he story of Thomas and Sally slowly takes shape as a love story both sweet and sad.  Along the way, many ‘facts’ and lessons of both history and civics are pitched by the characters, making Mr. Bradshaw’s play at times feel like an experimental learning device aimed at normally bored high school students.  .  . and finally , “. . . Sally Hemings who most modern Americans know in name only . . .  a young woman torn between her genuine love for the man who owns her as property and her driving desire to be free to pursue her own unfettered life.  . . . Small shifts in her countenance reveal the complex, strong character of Sally’s personality as she weighs the pull of soft caresses and erotic pleasure and the counter pull of assuming her place in society as the intelligent, strong-willed woman she is apart from Jefferson.  … Equally stellar is Mark Anderson Phillips as Sally’s owner and lover, Thomas Jefferson.  . . .   Prone to bouts of silly laughter and sudden outbursts of enthusiastic declarations, this Jefferson is also clearly smitten with Sally Hemings in ways seen in his soft touches, kind voice, and starry eyes .  .  .  Charlette Speigner provides a poignant picture of what it meant to be a slave woman, Betty Hemings, who sires child after child with her owner/lover, showing both the treachery and the tenderness of the situation Fate placed her.” –Eddie Reynolds

“Reveling in the brutal facts of slavery and its astounding injustices, this truly daring playwright challenges us to recognize uncomfortable truths: that slave owners fell madly in love with their slaves and that some slaves were sexually attracted to their masters. Thomas and Sally takes its time in letting those things happen, but has little patience for any naiveté about the ways of the world.  .  .  [Jefferson]’s a self-justifying prig who barely understands his own twisted desires, and yet he’s a beautiful person with a true sense of love. Played with great precision by Mark Anderson Phillips, we’re confronted with the full force of a man overwhelmed by a love that almost exists outside his imagination.  .  . And because of the play’s length, we have time to assess and reassess behavior, to feel the romance rise and ebb more than a few times. So we can truly follow Hemings’ slow awakening to the full horror and crazy possibilities that were opening up before her. She comes to Paris, barely 14, the maidservant to Jefferson’s daughter. And before long she’s having a passionate affair with the 44-year old founding father (not to mention then-ambassador to France and future president) who owns her, though crucially, maybe not in Europe. … We watch her watch Jefferson and without losing our ethical qualms, start to see him in the way a very young, enslaved woman might. Here is true love and an escape to a better world, or maybe, terrifyingly, just the opposite.   .   .  Simone’s belief is nothing less than a hijacking of American identity, the jettisoning of one set of myths for the embrace of an entirely different set of values. It is a vision that realizes the worst in people and yet hopes for the best results, a taking on of the great American racial freak-out and declaring it our founding romance and a blessing to us all.   .  .“I’m not sure the opening night MTC crowd fully took in the scope of what they witnessed, because if they had they would have hoisted Bradshaw on their well-heeled shoulders and danced down the heart of Mill Valley.” –John Wilkins

“It is a blot on Jefferson’s personal history that he was never able to practice what he about the evils of slavery. ‘Thomas and Sally’ has decided none of that matters. Love and Mozart are the answer.” –DAK