Miss Crandall’s Classes is the heartfelt drama of one woman’s strong belief that everyone has the right to an education. The teacher’s willingness to put her own life and reputation in jeopardy, to help others discover the joy of learning, seems like a straightforward story; however it is anything but simple.
In 1830’s Connecticut, Prudence Crandall runs a school for girls in a small town. This is a time when blacks are not only considered subhuman; it is illegal to teach them to read. Her decision to accept Sarah, her young free black housemaid, into her school as a pupil brings opposition from her student’s families, and the town authorities, as she knows it will. As her white students withdraw from the school, Prudence fills her classroom with black students eager to learn. She is soon arrested, put on trial for her actions, and ultimately freed. When the town ‘evil doers’ contaminate the well at the school, and burn the classroom, she finds refuge and a match for her ideals in a local minister.
This play, done as a reading, offers an authentic sense of the times and its prejudices. It takes us into the everyday lives of people in the 1830’s, and, sadly, what we see is the result of their fears. Salome Jens’ reading of Prudence gives a strong interpretation of her character’s struggle to understand how others can fail to see, with her clarity, that this is the right path; her passion for and mission to teach everyone never waivers. Latonia Phipps as Sarah is lively and engaged, and we see on her face that her concern and affection for Prudence is as strong as her passion for learning and a free life.
The story is based on the author’s research into actual events of the time. Her tale is compelling, however a full-scale production would help the audience to fully experience all the storyteller had in mind.
by Catherine Gropper
Directed by Jessica Bauman
Produced by Promise Productions LLC
Reviewed by Marcia Kirtland