An explosive world premiere by a 2017 PEN Award winnerThomas and Sally gets up close and personal with founding father Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who mothered six of his children. Playwright Thomas Bradshaw takes us behind the scenes of American history with the Hemings-Jeffersons and the rock stars of the Revolution: Ben Franklin, John & Abigail Adams & the Marquis de Lafayette.

Mr. Bradshaw’s writing has been influenced by the research of many historical experts on the Jefferson and Hemings families, but the world of this play is completely his own:

"Thomas and Sally is a work of historical fiction. You may recognize many of the names in this play, but others are pure invention. History is highly malleable and subject to interpretation. This is my attempt to explore the essence of these characters and the world they lived in. This is a play, and I am playing with history. I hope you enjoy."

Thomas Bradshaw's plays have been produced at regional theaters in NYC as well as in Europe. He is currently working on commissions from the Goodman Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, and the Foundry Theatre, as well as developing a TV series for HARPO and HBO. He is the recipient of a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship, the 2010 Prince Charitable Trust Prize, the 2012 Award from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and this year’s PEN award for an Emerging American playwright.

Appropriate for mature audiences.

Press mentions:
REVIEW: by Lily Janiak for the San Francisco Chronicle
REVIEW: by Sam Hurwitt for the Marin Independent Journal

INTERVIEW: Founding Father and "pillar of hypocrisy" at MTC
INTERVIEW: Playwright goes deep into Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings relationship

FEATURE: Marin Theater Co. goes out on a limb of the Jefferson family tree
FEATURE: Thomas Bradshaw’s explosive new play, Thomas and Sally, debuts at MTC



Press inquiries: 

Kate Robinson, Communications & Public Relations Associate
(415) 322-6029 | kater@marintheatre.org 

Performance Schedule


Evenings
Tues - Sun 7:30 PM

Matinees 
Sun (Preview) Oct 1, 4:00 PM
Thurs (Perspectives) Oct 12, 1:00 PM
Sat, Oct 7, 21 & 28, 2:00 PM
Sun, Oct 8, 15, 22 & 29, 2:00 PM

Ticket Prices

Performance Center
seating
Side
seating
Previews (Sep 28 - Oct 1) $37 $37
Opening Night (Oct 3) $60 $55
Sat Eve $60 $55
Tue*, Wed, Thu, Fri & Sun Eve $49 $44
Matinees $49 $44
Best Deal (all shows, limited availability) n/a $25

*Excludes Opening Night.

Prices subject to change. 

Phone orders subject to a $10 per order fee; online orders subject to a $3 per order fee

Disabled seating is currently only available through the MTC Box Office (415.388.5208 or in person). We apologize for any inconvenience.

Discounts


Groups
 – Bring eight or more people to receive a $7 discount off each ticket for the first seven tickets—and get your eighth ticket free!
Military – $6 off all performances. Learn more
Educator – $12, all performances (limit 2). Must teach at a Bay Area institution. Contact the Education Dept. to request. 

*The above discounts and special rates are available by booking directly through the Box Office.
You can visit us in-person 6 days a week, Tues. - Sun. from 12:00 PM - 5:00 PM.
Or, give us a call: (415) 388-5208 


Seniors
 (65+) – $4 off any performances 
Under 30 – $22, all performances 
Teens – $10, all performances

*The above discounts and special rates are available for each production when selecting seats online—no promo code needed!
They can also be redeemed in-person or over the phone when mentioned to the Box Office associate assisting you.


Production-specific promo codes distributed for online redemption subject to availability.  Only ONE (1) Promo Code will be valid per order.  Promo Codes do not apply to Best Deal ($25) tickets.

MTC Engaged Special Events

AFTER WORDS

AFTER WORDS

Post-Show

Post-show question and answer sessions, led by a member of our artistic staff, immediately following most performances (except on Opening and Closing Nights and Saturdays).

Window on the Work - Thomas and Sally

Window on the Work - Thomas and Sally

Tues., Sept. 19 | 7:30 PM

Window on the Works series focuses on our production; design, casting and rehearsal process. Mill Valley Public Library, 375 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley.

Wednesday Pre-Show Talk

Wednesday Pre-Show Talk

7:00 PM

Pre-show talk before every Wednesday evening performance.

MTC After Hours

MTC After Hours

Sat., Oct. 14 | 10:00 PM

Help us kick-off our 51st Season at After Hours following the 7:30pm performance, with cocktails, music and more!

Perspectives Matinee

Perspectives Matinee

Thurs., Oct. 12 | 12:00 PM

Topical lecture one hour prior to the 1:00 PM performance.

Panel Discussion with Thomas Bradshaw

Panel Discussion with Thomas Bradshaw

Sun., Oct. 1 | 6:00 PM

Post-show panel discussion with playwright Thomas Bradshaw, Noah Griffin and Brandi Catanese, moderated by Lue Douthit, following the 4:00 PM preview performance.

Cast

  • L. Peter Callender*

    L. Peter Callender*

    Jupiter Evans/French Servant

    L. Peter Callender returns to MTC having appeared as Mr. M in MY CHILDREN! MY AFRICA!, SEVEN GUITARS, CIRCLE/MIRROR/TRANSFORMATION, THE CONVERT and SWIMMERS  (Best Featured Actor). Mr Callender is Artistic Director of African-American Shakespeare Company where he has performed as Hoke in DRIVING MISS DAISY, Antony in ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, and directed TWELFTH NIGHT, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, A RAISIN IN THE SUN, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and JITNEY. Other directing credits include: JITNEY (Best Director Award) and JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE (Best Director nomination) at American Stage Company, St Petersburg, Fl, and SAFE HOUSE at Aurora Theater. Callender is also an Artistic Associate at California Shakespeare Theater having appeared in over 25 productions. A few favorites include: SlangTalkMan/Sykes in SPUNK, Pickering in PYGMALIAN, Leontes in WINTER’S TALE, Bolingbroke in RICHARD II, Roebuck Ramsden in MAN AND SUPERMAN. At Aurora Theater: Robert Mugabe in BREAKFAST WITH MUGABE, Sam in 'MASTER HAROLD'…and the Boys and PERMANENT COLLECTION. lpetercallender.com

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  • Scott ​K. Coopwood*

    Scott ​K. Coopwood*

    John Adams/Lafayette/Captain Hemings/Overseer/Jacques

    Scott is thrilled to return to MTC after ten years. Regional favorites include the title roles in Cyrano De Bergerac, Cymbeline, Macbeth, King John and Hamlet. Scott just finished this summer at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival playing Marcus Brutus and Petruchio at America's second oldest Shakespeare Festival. Other Regional Theatre's include; Artists Repertory Theatre, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Center REP, The MAGIC, Berkeley REP, San Jose REP, Arizona Theatre Company, Utah Shakespeare Festival, OSF-UCF, Seattle Shakespeare Co., Orlando Shakespeare Co., Portland Center Stage, Capital Stage., Capital Rep., ProfileTheatre Project, San Francisco Playhouse and more as well as work with the Toronto, Windsor, Eugene, Chicago, and Oregon Symphony Orchestra's.

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  • Ella Dershowitz

    Ella Dershowitz

    Simone/Martha/Polly

    Ella Dershowitz is so excited to be performing in the Bay Area for the first time! She previously appeared in Thomas Bradshaw’s Intimacy Off-Broadway at The New Group. Other Off-Broadway/NYC: Can You Forgive Her? (Vineyard Theater), Connected (59E59), Card and Gift (Clubbed Thumb), On The Verge (Attic Theater), A Splintered Soul (Theater Three).  Regional: 4,000 Miles (Hudson Stage), You Will Remember Me (Hudson Stage), Visitors (Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse), The Screenwriter’s Daughter (Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse), Twelfth Night (Payment). TV/Film: Phil Spector (HBO), The Affair (Showtime), Lie to Me (Fox), Knife Fight, Two-Bit Waltz, Addiction: A 60’s Love Story, I Am Michael. Upcoming Film/TV: Pitching Tents. Training: Yale University and LAMDA.

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  • Rosie Hallett*

    Rosie Hallett*

    Abigail Adams/Patsy/Karen

    Rosie Hallett is delighted and honored to return to MTC. She has previously appeared here in peerless, Native Son, and The Way West. Other credits include The Country House at TheatreWorks; Top Girls and Harry Thaw Hates Everybody with Shotgun Players; The Winter’s Tale with SF Shakespeare Festival; Status Update at CenterREP; and Smut and You Know When the Men are Gone with Word for Word Performing Arts Company, where she is an Associate Artist. When not in the Bay Area, Ms. Hallett can often be found performing English-language theatre in Paris with The Big Funk Company. She is a company member of Playground and a graduate of Stanford University.

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  • William Hodgson*

    William Hodgson*

    James Hemings

    This is William’s first appearance at MTC. William is an artist, an activist, and an educator. He has appeared locally at Berkeley Rep, Cal Shakes, TheaterWorks, Shotgun Players and Berkeley Playhouse. Other credits include An Octoroon (Mixed Blood), Ragtime (PCPA), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (La Jolla), El Henry (SDRep), I Am My Own Wife (Ubuntu). He trained at PCPA, Santa Fe University, and UCSD. William is the Co-Artistic Director of Ubuntu Theater Project in Oakland, Ca. Peace.

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  • Cameron Matthews

    Cameron Matthews

    Robert Hemings/Hugo

    Cameron Matthews was last seen at MTC in peerless. His Bay Area credits include VS. (TheatreFIRST), all of what you love and none of what you hate and Colossal (San Francisco Playhouse), Call It Off (Mojo Theatre), One Minute Play Festival (Z Space), and Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theatre Program. He is thrilled to be working with Marin Theatre Company for the first time, and is grateful to be a part of this production. He thanks God for his many blessings. He sends much love and appreciation to his family and friends for all of their support, especially his mom, Sophia. Love you, Mom! 

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  • Tara Pacheco*

    Tara Pacheco*

    Sally Hemings

    Tara Pacheco is making her MTC debut with Thomas and Sally. A New York native, she has performed in new plays at The Flea Theater (The Mysteries), The Signature Theater (The Place We Built), Ars Nova (Stacking the Brooms), The Public Theater, The New Ohio, and The Adirondack Theater Festival. She has devised work with Blessed Unrest, The Jewish Plays Project, New Georges, Fresh Ground Pepper, and The People's Improv Theater. Pacheco’s most recent television appearance was on NBC's Shades of Blue. She is a graduate of Columbia University and the British American Drama Academy.

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  • Mark Anderson Phillips*

    Mark Anderson Phillips*

    Thomas Jefferson

    Credits - Off Broadway: Ideation (59E59 NYC); Regional/International: Hir (World Premiere), True West, Stones in His Pockets (Magic Theatre); The Velocity of Autumn, Fallen Angels, Time Stands Still, The 39 Steps, Opus,The Grapes of Wrath (TheatreWorks); Baskerville!, Noises Off, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Witness for the Prosecution, A Christmas Carol (CenterREP); Clybourne Park (Repertory Theatre of St. Louis); Stage Kiss, Abraham Lincolns Big Gay Dance Party (SF Playhouse); The Big Meal, The Weir, Long Days Journey Into Night (San Jose Repertory Theatre); As You Like It, The Merry Wives of Windsor (Santa Cruz Shakespeare); Good People, Waiting for Godot, Tiny Alice (Marin Theatre Company); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Arizona Theatre Company); Double Indemnity (A Contemporary Theatre Seattle); Salomania, Miss Julie, Salome, Small Tragedy (Aurora Theatre); Measure for Measure, Henry V (California Shakespeare Theatre); Joan Rivers, a Work in Progress (Edinburgh Fringe Festival). www.markandersonphillips.com

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  • Robert Sicular*

    Robert Sicular*

    Benjamin Franklin/John Wayles/French Cook/French Tailor/Man

    A Bay Area native, Robert is delighted to return to the Marin Theater Company where he was previously seen as Uncle Charlie in August: Osage County, William Fox in Fetch Clay Make Man, Marvin in Magic Forest Farm and Mr. Lockhart (aka the Devil) in The Seafarer. He has also performed locally with the Berkeley Rep, ACT, Word for Word, PlayGround, San Jose Rep, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival and the California/Berkeley Shakespeare Festival. Other theaters include the Denver Center Theatre Company, South Coast Rep, Seattle Rep, Repertory Theatre of Saint Louis, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Sacramento Theatre Company, the Colorado, Lake Tahoe, Santa Fe Shakespeare Festivals, the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC, and for eight years, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Screen credits include the Sci-Fi comedy thriller, Never Die Twice; the Bollywood potboiler, Dil Pardesi Ho Gaya; and the role of “Dad” in Josh Kornbluth’s Love and Taxes. Also, recurring roles on General Hospital and The Young and the Restless. Robert attended the University of California at Berkeley and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. www.robertsicular.com

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  • ​Charlette Speigner*

    ​Charlette Speigner*

    Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings/Renee

    Charlette Speigner is delighted to make her debut at Marin Theatre Company in Thomas and Sally. Some of her theatre work includes productions at Goodman Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Northlight Theatre, Pegasus Players, and Eclipse Theatre. Film and television credits include For the Cause and Chicago PD. 

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Creative Team

  • ​Thomas Bradshaw

    ​Thomas Bradshaw

    Playwright

    Thomas Bradshaw's play Carlyle premiered at The Goodman Theatre as part of their 2015-16 season. His play Fulfillment co-premiered at American Theater Company (Chicago) and The Flea Theater (New York) in fall 2015.  His other plays include Intimacy and Burning (New Group); Mary (Goodman Theatre)  Job and Dawn (Flea Theater); The Bereaved (Crowded Fire, Partial Comfort and the State Theater of Bielefeld in Germany); Southern Promises (PS122). He is the recipient of a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship, the 2010 Prince Prize, a Foundation for Contemporary Arts award in 2012, a Doris Duke Implementation Grant in 2016, and a PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theatre Award in 2017.  Mr. Bradshaw has been featured as one of Time Out New York’s 10 playwrights to watch and was named “Best Provocative Playwright” by the Village Voice. A compilation of his work Intimacy and Other Plays was recently published by TCG. Mr. Bradshaw is an Associate Professor at Northwestern University.  He is currently under commission from The Royal National Theater in London, The Goodman/Second City in Chicago, and The Foundry Theater in New York.

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  • Jason Minadakis

    Jason Minadakis

    Director

    Jasson Minadakis is in his 12th season as artistic director of Marin Theatre Company, where he has directed Guards at the TajAugust: Osage CountyThe Invisible HandAnne BoleynThe ConvertThe WhaleFailure: A Love Story, the world premiere of Lasso of TruthThe Whipping Man (San Francisco Bay Area Critics Circle Awards for Best Production and Best Acting Ensemble), Waiting for GodotOthello: the Moor of VeniceThe Glass Menagerie, Edward Albee’s Tiny Alice, the world premiere of Libby Appel’s adaptation of Chekhov’s SeagullHappy Now?Equivocation(SFBATCC Award, Best Director), the world premiere of SunlightLydiaThe SeafarerFrankie and Johnny in the Clair de LuneA Streetcar Named Desiresaid SaïdLove Song, and The Subject Tonight is Love. As artistic director of Actor’s Express Theatre Company, he directed The PillowmanBug; The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer; Echoes of Another Man;Killer Joe; Burn This; The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?Blue/Orange; and Bel Canto. As producing artistic director of Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, he directed Jesus Hopped the ’A’ TrainChagrin Falls (2002 Cincinnati Entertainment Award for Best Production), and numerous others, including 19 productions of Shakespeare. Regional credits include The Whipping Man at Virginia Stage Company, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Hamlet at Georgia Shakespeare, Copenhagen at Playhouse on the Square (2003 Ostrander Theatre Award for Best Dramatic Production), and Bedroom Farce at Wayside Theatre.

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  • Betsy Norton*

    Betsy Norton*

    Stage Manager

    Betsy Norton is thrilled to be returning to Marin Theatre Company as Stage Manager after PAing four seasons (and over 15 shows!) for the company. Other works include: stage managing Mike Birbiglia: The New One (Berkeley Repertory Theatre), PAing Monsoon Wedding (Berkeley Repertory Theatre) and Amélie: A New Musical (Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Center Theatre Group), and stage managing for the MTC summer camps. Betsy is a proud new member of Actors' Equity.

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  • Laura Brueckner

    Laura Brueckner

    Production Dramaturg

    Laura Brueckner has been supporting productions and playwrights with her dramaturgical work for over 20 years, with an emphasis on digital dramaturgy, world premieres, and commissions. During this time, she has been proud to count among her collaborators stellar artists such as MTC Playwright in Residence Lauren Gunderson, Christopher Chen, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, Mina Morita, Marissa Wolf, Idris Goodwin, Lachlan Philpott, and Dominique Serrand, as well as groundbreaking companies Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Crowded Fire Theater, The New Harmony Project, Playwrights Foundation, and, now, Marin Theatre Company. As an artist, she is committed to theatre as a path of social action, critical inquiry, discovery, and delight. Her journalistic writing on artistic process and audience engagement has been published by HowlRound and Theatre Bay Area; her dramaturgical writing has been published by Berkeley Rep, California Shakespeare Theater, and Crowded Fire. A current member of Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, she holds a B.A. in English dramatic literature (magna cum laude) from U.C. Berkeley and a Ph.D. in dramaturgy from U.C. San Diego.

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  • Sean Fanning+

    Sean Fanning+

    Scenic Designer

    Sean Fanning is a Southern California-based designer who previously did the scenic design for My Mañana Comes at MTC. San Diego credits include Full GallopA Doll’s HouseKingdomPlaid Tidings (The Old Globe), Evita, Manifest DestinitisThe Oldest BoyEverybody’s Talkin’, HonkyIn the Heights (San Diego Repertory Theatre), On the Twentieth Century, Animal Crackers, Bad JewsSeven Guitars, King Hedley II, GypsyThe WhaleSons of the Prophet (Cygnet Theatre Company), Silent Sky, Equivocation (Lamb’s Players); Damn YankeesWest Side Story (San Diego Musical Theatre). He received the first Craig Noel award for Designer of the Year for his body of work in 2016, and is a resident artist of Cygnet Theatre. In 2016, he had the pleasure of designing the Old Globe/ SDPL’s exhibit of Shakespeare’s First Folio in honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Sean holds an M.F.A. in Scene Design from San Diego State University. seanfanningdesigns.com

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  • Ashley Holvick

    Ashley Holvick

    Costume Designer

    Ashley Holvick previously designed the costumes for August: Osage CountyAnne Boleyn and the MTC Family Series production of Charlotte’s Web. Other recent work includes San Francisco Shakespeare Festival’s Romeo and Juliet and Shotgun Players' Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Ashley has designed for many theaters and institutions throughout the Bay Area including The Aurora Theatre Company, San Francisco Playhouse, Pacific Repertory, UC Berkeley, Just Theatre and TheatreFirst, among many others. Ashley has an MFA from San Francisco State University. Ashley is the former costume shop manager at Marin Theatre and costume shop shopper for The San Francisco Opera. ashleyholvick.com

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  • Mike Post

    Mike Post

    Lighting Designer

    Mike Post is happy to be designing his second show for MTC after recently doing Guards at the Taj. He has been working in theatre for over 25 years, primarily as a lighting designer and technician, as well as a production manager. Mr. Post’s lighting design credits include Idols of the KingThe Last Night of Ballyhoo, and Rocket City at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival; Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Odyssey, As You Like It, and Metamorphoses at Georgia Shakespeare, where he was also the production manager; Some Men at Actor’s Express; The 13th of Paris at the Horizon Theatre; The Guys and Silent Sky at Theatrical Outfit; and Les Miserables and The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown at the Aurora Theatre in Georgia. 

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  • ​Theodore J.H. Hulsker

    ​Theodore J.H. Hulsker

    Sound Designer

    Theodore is returning to MTC after having done the sound design for August: Osage County. Previous work includes Anne BoleynSwimmers and My Mañana Comes at MTC; and AssassinsWoyzeckStrangers BabiesHarry Thaw Hates Everybody and Our Town with the Shotgun Players. His work can also frequently be heard at the San Francisco Playhouse where past credits include Into the WoodsSeminar and Tree. He is a Mugwumpin Company member and past work with them includes The Great Big AlsoLuster and Blockbuster Season. In 2012 He received the Eric Landismen Fellowship for emerging designer and has been thrice nominated for a BATCC award for Sound Design. In addition to his work as a sound designer, he curates a monthly art event called Klanghaus in North Oakland. theodore-hulsker.squarespace.com

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  • Jessica Berman

    Jessica Berman

    Dialect Coach

    Jessica Berman is a dialect, voice, and text coach. Her previous work at MTC includes The Legend of Georgia McBride, Native Son, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, and August: Osage County.  Ms. Berman has led dialect workshops for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and has taught voice, speech, and dialects at U.C. Berkeley, Academy of Art University, and in A.C.T.’s Summer Training Congress. Recent dialect coaching credits include: Monsoon Wedding, An Octoroon, and Hand to God (Berkeley Rep), The Baltimore Waltz, Sojourners, runboyrun, and Fred’s Diner (Magic Theatre), Fences (California Shakespeare Theater), Jerusalem (San Francisco Playhouse), and Punk Rock, Tomorrow, and The Life to Come (A.C.T.’s Young Conservatory).  She holds an M.A. in Professional Voice Practice from the Birmingham School of Acting, and an M.F.A. in Voice Studies from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

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  • Jemier B. Jenkins

    Jemier B. Jenkins

    Assistant Director

    Jemier Jenkins is an actress, grad student, and teaching artist from St. Petersburg, FL and is excited to work with Marin Theatre Company. She owns a small business; Jemier Briel Productions, LLC and is currently in preproduction for an original podcast called, Black Boite.  Jemier is an alumna of Florida State University, William Esper’s Acting Conservatory (NYC), and a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Favorite roles include Molly in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (American Stage); Rena in Jitney (African-American Stage Company- AASC); Wonder Woman in Sex Relationships & Sometimes Love (The Producers Club Theatre). Favorite Gigs include stage managing AASC's production of Shakespeare's Winter's Tale (TBA Recommended Production). She would like to thank Marin Theatre Company, her family, sorors, & friends for their prayers, love, & support. You can follow her on social media @JemierBriel & www.JemierJenkins.com.

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* Denotes member of Actors Equity Association
+ Member, United Scenic Artists
^ Member, Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers

Reviews

  • ‘Thomas and Sally’: How much did she choose?

    A sign your show might be controversial: If, before you even open, your promotional artwork prompts demands that you cancel it. 

    Wherever possible, Marin Theatre Company has replaced the artwork for “Thomas and Sally,” the opener of its 51st season. Original graphics depicted Sally Hemings, the slave who bore her master, Thomas Jefferson, six children, with a slight smile and a coy expression. Commenters accused the company of suggesting that slavery was enjoyable and of perpetuating stereotypes of black women as hyper sexualized.

    After the staff received threats, MTC hired a private security guard for performances. The theater “wanted to make sure the cast and the audience felt safe,” Managing Director Keri Kellerman said after the Tuesday, Oct. 3, opening night of the world-premiere commission. 

    The evening proceeded without incident, but in envisioning Hemings’ and Jefferson’s lives, Thomas Bradshaw’s play has exposed a political fault line, in the left-of-center Bay Area, about how we talk about the worst parts of our legacy as Americans. If the show spawns vitriolic arguments — and that’s how the Chicago-based Bradshaw tends to roll — isn’t it better that we’re having them in the open (so long as no one gets hurt)?

    Here are some of the few things we can say with certainty about Hemings and Jefferson: Since Hemings was a slave, Jefferson could, with protection of the law, force her to have sex with him. She was also 14 or 15, three decades his junior, when he first made advances. Yet according to lore passed down through generations of the Hemings family, there was real love between the two.

    We can’t ever know much more than that. Slavery was horror, to understate it, and yet we’re limiting Hemings, and ourselves, if, as the Jefferson scholar Annette Gordon-Reed wrote in the New York Times in August, we treat “Hemings’ legal status as the definitive answer to the question of what did and did not happen in her life.” She was legally property, “but she was also a human being.”

    Or as “Thomas and Sally” puts it, to say that “because [Hemings and her family] were slaves, they never ever made a decision that was their own” is “simply not true. Slaves had very little agency, that’s a fact, but they used every ounce of it that they had.”
    To put forth both points of view, Bradshaw creates an epic piece of theater that chronicles Hemings’ ancestry, Jefferson’s ambivalent (to say the least) relationship to slavery, and his journey to Paris to serve as ambassador to France on the eve of that country’s revolution. It was there that he saw Hemings for the first time in five years, after she accompanied his daughter there.

    The show portrays Sally (Tara Pacheco) as both oppressed and with the agency to have complicated feelings about Jefferson (Mark Anderson Phillips) and the power to make some decisions about them. It’s a subjective take, of course, which Bradshaw makes explicit with a framing device. As the play opens, current-day college student Simone (Ella Dershowitz), a descendant of Jefferson and Hemings, starts telling her family’s history to her roommate Karen (Rosie Hallett), while repeatedly emphasizing that she’s “not a historian.” 
    It’s mostly a clunky technique, but the pair’s incisive debate in the play’s last scene about how much agency Hemings had helps start post-show conversation. Also clunky, though, is the Hemings family history with which Bradshaw front-loads the play. Depending on how conscientious your grade school history teachers were, it will likely complicate how you think about slaves and their Founding-Father masters. Hemings was the third generation of master-slave coupling in her family.

    It’s fascinating, especially when Bradshaw shows how slavery makes oppression the default mode of every relationship on his estate, and director Jasson Minadakis’ cast renders each role with such specificity that you see a full separate play for even minor characters. But it moves so quickly that it’s less development and dramatization of conflict — the stuff of great theater — than whirlwind survey.

    The play gives comparatively short shrift to Hemings’ two big dilemmas, whether to run away from Jefferson while he’s ambassador to France, where she can petition for her freedom, and then whether to heed his pleas to return to him and to Monticello. But Pacheco finds strength in her character’s deep feeling and her pragmatism, her ability to efficiently assess her lot in life, which constantly changes, and then make strategic decisions about it. 
    Phillips skillfully paints Jefferson as only dimly aware of his contradictions with regard to slavery. (Jefferson advocated for abolition and sending slaves back to Africa, even as he owned hundreds of them.) Above all, Phillips’ Jefferson is a man who probably shouldn’t have been a politician; he’s always humming Mozart or gazing adoringly at his architectural plans or waxing rhapsodic about plants and music. 

    Excited or nervous, he squeaks out syllables or blurts out phrases at a volume much louder than a situation seems to require. He is a dreamer, an intellectual, but one whose fancies have been allowed to flourish because he is so seldom challenged on anything. It’s not just hard for him to imagine that slaves might not think of him as family, that the smiles they show him might be performed; it’s hard for him even to imagine that anyone might not feel the same about returning to America as he does.

    Dominating the neoclassical portion of Sean Fanning’s set is a giant inscription: “Hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind.” That’s part of a quote of Jefferson’s, of course, and this play applies it broadly — to Jefferson himself, in ways the Founding Father couldn’t have imagined, and to anyone with preconceptions about Founding Fathers and their slaves.

    — Lily Janiak, San Francisco Chronicle Read full review
  • Jefferson’s hypocrisy is stripped bare in ‘Thomas and Sally’

    The play that opens Marin Theatre Company’s 51st season sparked controversy before it even opened. A commissioned world premiere by Thomas Bradshaw, “Thomas and Sally” explores the story of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who bore six of his children, starting in her mid teens.

    A lot of people on social media have been upset by any hint in the play’s marketing that it might romanticize or in any way excuse a slaveholder having sex with someone he’s enslaved. Most pointed out that no matter how events might have played out, there can be no such thing as consent when one person is considered to be the other one’s property. Bradshaw had devastatingly depicted exactly that kind of exploitation in his play “Southern Promises,” so there was reason to hope he wouldn’t be handling this thorny topic with kid gloves.

    As it happens, “Thomas and Sally” is pretty cautious with its subject, if immoderate in other ways. A sprawling three hours with two intermissions, it’s overstuffed with exposition on everything from emancipation procedures in France to smallpox inoculation to the Electoral College. It also features cute gags about unhygienic use of sex toys and a naked Jefferson whining about having to write the Declaration of Independence while the other Founders get to do all the fun stuff. Cheeky scenes with John Adams and Ben Franklin might as well be outtakes from “1776.”

    It’s not presented as a love story, but not as straightforward exploitation either, except insofar as slavery is inherently exploitation. There’s a lot of tender talk from Jefferson and from Sally’s father (a placid Robert Sicular), but what little we hear of Sally’s own considerations is more tied to calculations of survival and freedom for her family.

    The play is framed by two modern college roommates in their dorm room. A chirpy blonde played by Ella Dershowitz claims to be a direct descendent of Hemings and Jefferson and gushes the story to her rapt roomie, portrayed by Rosie Hallett with wide-eyed delight. They stick around and gawk throughout, occasionally taking on roles such as Jefferson’s wife and daughters.

    Artistic director Jasson Minadakis makes playful use of the contemporary elements in his production. Historical figures pop out of closets, and the Jefferson Memorial looms over the curiously uncluttered dorm room in Sean Fanning’s set.

    Entering in the second act, Tara Pacheco is a graceful and ingenious Sally Hemings, trying to make the best of her situation. William Hodgson is compellingly savvy and conflicted as her brother James, trained to become a master chef and introduced to revolutionary ideas in Paris, where they’ve accompanied Jefferson. Cameron Matthews is more generally bewildered as their brother Robert, who can’t fathom the deep resentment of others such as Jefferson’s longtime valet (L. Peter Callender’s quietly dignified Jupiter Evans) toward the Hemings family’s special treatment, kept apart from the rest of the enslaved. (Sally and her brothers were half-siblings of Jefferson’s wife Martha.) Scott Coopwood plays myriad parts such as Jefferson’s overseer and James’ abused apprentice chef, and Charlette Speigner exudes compassion as Sally’s mother Betty.

    Mark Anderson Phillips is full of childish self-absorption and persuasive charisma as Jefferson. Though he believes himself sincere, the play exposes Jefferson’s hypocrisy at every turn. He spouts pieties about his deep belief in the abolition of slavery with no intention of freeing the more than a hundred people enslaved on his own plantation. He keeps patting himself on the back for how relatively well treated they are, but he keeps himself in denial that they’re enslaved at all, always referring to them as “servants.” He blithely babbles about their supposed love of manual labor and how he thinks intelligence in mixed race people is proportional to how much white is in the mix.

    The play mostly explores why Sally and James ever came back with Jefferson from Paris, where slavery had been abolished. The framing device gives Bradshaw ample opportunity to explicitly debate the issues the story brings up, which he does in a noncommittal way, presenting an argument and a counterargument and just leaving them there to think about. He inserts a fair amount of humor and style, but ultimately it feels like he tries so hard to be fair to everyone that he doesn’t bring much of a perspective to the story at all.

    — Sam Hurwitt, Marin IJ Read full review
  • “Thomas and Sally” is full of depth, intrigue, and thought-provoking moments.

    If Thomas Bradshaw were a writer of history books, then that subject might very well be THE favorite of school kids across America.  Instead, he 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.  The “n-word” spoken freely, a founding father prancing around in only his birthday suit, and statements like “Africans may not have the intelligence of the white race but you’ll not find people with bigger hearts” are all part of this telling that cannot help but make the audience squirm uncomfortably.  But after taking a few gulps of air and letting the story further unfold, audience members also cannot help but gain new insights about not only our collective history and one of the best-loved of our presidents, but also new insights into some of the messes we are in today that have their roots in yesteryears long past.

    Sitting in their dorm room, two roomies struggle with the demands of college life.  Karen must finish a history paper due tomorrow, and Simone is seeking a private place to relieve tension via her dildo that Karen borrowed without asking (and did not clean).  When Karen (Rosie Hallett) discovers that Simone (Ella Dershowitz) is a descendant of Thomas Jefferson (the subject of her paper) and his slave Sally Heming, she is ecstatic and asks for more details of the family history.  Imagine her shock but soon fascination as closet doors open and that history begins to play out right in their dorm room. 

    The time is suddenly 1735, and the owner of Sally’s grandma (Betty Hemings) – the white owner, Captain John Hemings, actually being Sally’s grandfather – is unsuccessfully trying to buy her from a plantation owner.  Time jumps ahead twenty-six years, and Betty is now caring for the motherless Martha Wayles (who will become Thomas Jefferson’s wife) while also becoming the mother of a number of children, several whose father is also Martha’s father, John.  The last of these is Sally, born at Monticello, having come there as part of the marriage bounty of over 100 slaves that Jefferson acquired when he married Martha Wayles.

    That the bloodlines and relationships are all very intertwined in what could be a confusing mishmash is not an issue in the fast-paced parade of characters that continue to come out of closet doors of Karen’s and Simone’s dorm room.  Simone herself dons in front of us dresses of the eighteenth century and becomes Jefferson’s bride, Martha. Karen watches in full wide-eyed fascination from whatever perch on desk, shelf, or corner she can find to have a good view while also staying out of the way of her term paper being written right before her eyes.

    Fifty-plus years of early American history continue to unfold before us as names familiar (Benjamin Franklin, John and Abigail Adams) and unknown (mostly slaves owned by Jefferson) appear in scene after scene where the 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.  This is especially true during some of the conversations between the two college roomies where mini-lectures of Simone feel like footnotes to fill Karen (and us) in on some of the era’s details we may not know.  But, just when one feels maybe I should be taking notes in case there is a test, out of the closet doors come a whole new set of interesting characters who bring more intrigue to this mixture of families, relationships, and lovers who all somehow helped shape our country’s foundations.

    Tara Pacheco takes the Sally Hemings who most modern Americans know in name only and brings her to full life as 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.  Ms. Pacheco is brilliant in portraying both halves of Sally’s internal battle with much credible nuance.  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.  (That latter choice becomes a possible reality for her during their years in France while Jefferson serves as the U.S. minister to a country that is willing to award any slave on its soil complete freedom.)

    Equally stellar is Mark Anderson Phillips as Sally’s owner and lover, Thomas Jefferson.  With a new Mozart tune – Mozart being the current rave in American Revolutionary times – always only a hum away as he walks about, his Jefferson is slightly quirky and awkward with teenage boy mannerisms in a body of a thirty-something man.  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.  But Mr. Phillips’ Jefferson is also a troubling conundrum as he declares himself “the foremost abolitionist of the world” who sees slavery as a “moral blotch on our nature” but who cannot bring himself to free his own treasury of slaves, including the woman he most evidently loves.  In the end, Mark Anderson Phillips complicates in wonderful ways this American hero of heroes, leaving us questioning any tendencies toward our own blind admiration while also still finding ourselves liking this icon in new and different ways.

    The cast of this premiere delivers excellence in all the many roles portrayed, with some members taking on as many as five persona.  William Hodgson is Sally’s brother, James Hemings, who gains the chance to be trained as a French chef and the opportunity to become schooled in the French Revolution concepts of liberté, égalité, and fraternité.  His James lights up with energetic zeal as he strives to please the man who keeps telling him, “Think of me as your father.”  But his eyes also show much skepticism of that same man’s true intentions since the supposed father is still his master. Those same eyes are also drawn longingly to a possible horizon where freedom exists in France to open his own restaurant.

    Another Hemings sibling, Robert, is ably played by Cameron Matthews – a handsome and eager-to-please valet of Jefferson’s who replaces ol’ Jupiter, a sweet but less-educated butler (L. Peter Callender) who is literally put out to the pasture (or at least the stables) by a master who is more enthralled by the younger man.  Scott Coopwood and Robert Sicular each take on multiple roles, including respectively John Adams and Benjamin Franklin – roles that allow them to reenact a similarly funny scene from the musical 1776 where the two convince a reluctant Jefferson to pen single-handedly the Declaration of Independence.  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.

    As he has time and again on the Marin Theatre stage (Guards at the Taj, Anne Boleyn, The Whipping Man), Jasson Minadakis once again proves his skills as a master director as he orchestrates without a hitch two time periods separated by 250 years yet often played simultaneously.  He also ensures the fifty years of history flies by seemingly in a flash, even though the play itself is long enough to require two intermissions. 

    Into all the serious and even troubling themes and threads of the play, he and his creative team have woven much humor, often tongue-in-cheek.  Sean Fanning’s scenic design is a big player in that accomplishment, with hot-breathing lovers being wheeled out in an upright bed or with members of a century long past using a dorm room’s desk as a cutting block (aided by a nearby, electric, gooseneck lamp) or pulling out a pitcher of ale from the dorm ‘frig. 

    Ashley Holvick has performed miracles with costumes that bring authenticity of era but that also are often donned and de-clothed while characters are shifting both roles and centuries.  Theodore J.H. Hulsker’s sound design creates its own magic, with audience members having to look twice to be sure the still fingers of Jefferson are actually not playing the violin perched under his chin.  Finally, Mike Post’s lighting design helps change a dorm room’s stark atmosphere into the atmospheres of a number of other locations and time periods – from European parlors to Monticello bedrooms.

    Fifty years is a lot of time to cover in one play -- especially with all the convoluted family trees, bedroom intricacies, moral dilemmas, and famed historical figures contained within Thomas Bradshaw’s Thomas and Sally.  However, as produced in world premiere by Marin Theatre Company, the years are literally a few minutes each in length while being full of depth, intrigue, and thought-provoking moments.

    Rating: 5 E

    — Eddie Reynolds, Theater Eddy's

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