The play, entitled "The Death of Bessie Smith," is set inside a whites-only hospital in 1937 Memphis. It uses an urban legend about the death of blues legend Bessie Smith — she died after a car crash, and it was rumored that she had been refused admittance to a hospital — to comment on race and inequality.
The New Brooklyn Theater sees a similar inequality in the way the state is closing hospitals like Interfaith and Long Island College Hospital, which serves Red Hook residents in addition to more affluent neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights, said theater chairman Jeff Strabone.
"If [Interfaith] were to close, that would be a racist public health outcome," Strabone said. "We need to have a conversation in this city about public health and race and class, and who's allowed to have a hospital, and who gets to decide."
The play, which will be performed in Interfaith's conference room, was originally written in 1959, and was Albee's second play before he went on to pen more famous works like "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
The theater originally tried to buy the rights to the play, but it was unsuccessful. The New Brooklyn Theater then contacted Albee directly to ask to perform the play and was given permission, with the stipulation that all the shows be free and that there be no reviews, Strabone said.
Interfaith Medical Center serves one of the neediest communities in the city, with surrounding Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights designated "Health Professional Shortage Areas," according to a report released by the public advocate's office. Obesity, diabetes, HIV and mental-health-related illnesses are all higher there than the Brooklyn average, according to the report.
Interfaith began to see revenues fall in 2010, when the state reduced Medicaid reimbursements. Hospital officials say more than 60 percent of Interfaith patients depend on the health program.
The hospital filed for bankruptcy in December 2012, and has been in bankruptcy hearings for months. On Nov. 13, United States Bankruptcy Court Judge Carla E. Craig ordered the parties involved, including Interfaith, the state, creditors and the healthcare union, to sit down and discuss plans for the hospital, according to court documents. The case is still in mediation.
Performances of "The Death of Bessie Smith," directed by the theater's artistic director Jonathan Solari, begin Jan. 9, and many of the shows will feature panel discussions with elected officials, healthcare providers, activists and artists.
“Staging Edward Albee’s play inside Interfaith Medical Center is a unique opportunity to bring together the larger Brooklyn community in a common conversation about race, class, health and the arts,” Solari said.
All performances of "The Death of Bessie Smith" are free, and take place in Interfaith's conference room near the hospital's main entrance. For dates and to secure tickets, click here.