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Group Performs Play at Struggling Brooklyn Hospital

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As hospitals in Brooklyn face closure, one group is turning to the arts to highlight the issue. NY1's Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.

Edward Albee's play "The Death of Bessie Smith" is set in a hospital, and now, it's being performed in a hospital as the conference room of Interfaith Medical Center is transformed into a theater.

"This site is the only place where this play could happen," said Jonathan Solari, the play's director.

The play's theme speaks to racial injustice in health care back in 1937 in Tennessee, but the New Brooklyn Theater said that it brought the play here because of its relevance today, as Interfaith, which serves a primarily black community, is on the brink of being shut down.

"I think that we as artists and as a company that are invested in Bed-Stuy and in this community, we have an obligation to speak to the issues of our audiences," Solari said.

Albee gave the theater company free rights to the play, which hasn't been performed in New York since the late 1960s, but only on condition: that the show would play nowhere except the hospital, and that the actors would work for free.

There are eight performances, which started last week. After the shows, the cast participates in a talk back with the audience about the power of the play's messages.

"What can we do to effect change and do something now," said actor Jamyl Dobson.

"Ramifications of it could mean saving a whole lot of lives in this community and about 1,500 jobs," said actor James Patrick Nelson. "That's really exciting and important to be a part of."

"As much as this is about what happened 70 years ago, it's really about what's happening right now at Interfaith Hospital," said actor Paul Wilcox.

New Brooklyn Theater said that it hopes bringing the work to the community makes an impact.

"We're hoping to provoke a conversation about health, race and class, and who gets to make these decisions," said Jeff Strabone, chair of the New Brooklyn Theater.

Audience members say the one-act, one-hour play connects to the hospital closure threats the neighborhood faces today.

"This piece so accurately talked about the consequences of people's decisions, how people's personal biases or access can have literal life-or-death consequences," said Courtney Harge, a Bedford-Stuyvesant resident.

Performances this week take place Thursday through Sunday.

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