When Patti Green Roth first read Jeff Barker’s trial play “The Trial of Carrie Buck,” she knew instantly that it would be perfect for the Sundial Theatre Company.
“It’s a fabulous play because it talks about things that actually existed,” said Roth, a McLean resident and the associate artistic director for Sundial Theatre Company.
Barker’s play is based on the true story of Carrie Buck, a woman who lived in rural Virginia in the 1920’\s and inadvertently found herself embroiled in one of the more significant Supreme Court cases in American history — best known for Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ statement in his majority opinion that, “three generations of imbeciles is enough." When Buck was a young girl, her mother Emma Buck turned to drinking and prostitution after the death of Carrie’s father. Emma Buck was subsequently put into a state colony for the “feeble-minded,” and Carrie was put in foster care. She was eventually adopted by a family in Charlottesville, with whom she led a normal and happy life until the age of 16.
At 16, Carrie Buck was raped by her cousin — the nephew of her foster parents. The incident left Buck pregnant, and her foster parents felt the only appropriate option was to send Buck to the same state colony where her own mother resided. After giving birth to her daughter, Buck moved to the colony but was quickly told by her doctors that she did not belong there. But her spotty family history mandated that Buck’s release from the colony be contingent upon her sterilization — the idea being that doctors would put a final end to her “faulty” bloodline. It was four long years before Buck was finally released, and amidst it all, her case went all the way to the highest court in the country.
WHEN ROTH read “The Trial of Carrie Buck,” she was fascinated — and she knew that others would be as well. She also felt that the true story fit in nicely with the mission of the Sundial Theatre Company, which is to present community performances that depict stories of people with disabilities. Although Carrie Buck was not truly disabled, she was perceived as such by everyone around her and was subsequently treated with discrimination.
“This play has a disability orientation, and I think this really levels the playing field for everyone,” said Roth. “This case is very, very rarely heard about, so I really think it will be brand new for a lot of people.”
Alexandria resident Bailey Center plays the role of Col. Aubrey Strode in the upcoming Sundial production. Center said he was also taken in by the historical play and felt that he learned a great deal by being a part of the production.
“This was an interesting case,” said Center. “There are all these forces against this poor little girl and it’s interesting to see the ripples.”
The show’s director Rosemary Hartman said she also enjoyed tackling subject matter that was unfamiliar and engaging. One of Hartman’s favorite scenes is when Carrie Buck searches for her mother in the state colony.
“It’s a very sweet scene — very poignant,” said Hartman.
McLean resident Dell Pendergrast plays two roles in the show, Dr. Coulter and Mr. Hopkins, the supervisor of public roads. Pendergrast said he believes “The Trial of Carrie Buck” will be an interesting history lesson for all those who see the play.
“This isn’t fiction,” said Pendergrast. “This actually happened, and it happened in our state.”