Quality Darkness

Review: “Nellie and the Women of Blackwell” at Wildrence

By lead reviewer Anthony J. Piccione

For all the problems in 2020 with our mental health system, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how much worse people with mental illnesses were treated way back in the 19th century. Yet there’s a new immersive theatre production in NYC that’s reminding theatergoers exactly it was like, by taking them back in time to meet one of the journalists who helped expose the horrific treatment that the mentally ill faced in asylums at the time.

static.playbillBased on the real life story of Nellie Bly, this inventive script is brilliant at keeping the audience engaged, and making them feel as if they really are being transported back in time. While there are quite a few elements of dark humor that make the show entertaining, what lies at the core of this script is the dark and depressing manner in which mental health problems were treated back then. It is this historical insight into a still relevant subject that makes this play particularly memorable, along with the multiple ways in which the actors are able to make the audience part of the show, and thus, essentially serve as central characters.

Staged in the basement performance space at Wildrence, the audience serves as the guests of Nellie Bly, who serves as a tour guide while going undercover throughout various locations as patients at a mental institution, in the hopes of eventually writing an expose on how she, along with the other patients, were treated. From the props and costumes that perfectly capture the time period, to the haunting lighting design that enhances the play’s atmosphere, and most importantly, the performances of its incredibly talented cast, this is a near-perfect theatrical experience.

While running over just over a month, it’s arguably that it still deserves an even longer run, both to the continued relevance of the historical subject matter, as well as the way in which it keeps the audience both thinking and entertaining. There are still a few performances left in this unique production, so if you have a chance, be sure to check it out while you still can!


“Nellie and the Women of Blackwell” stars Kate Szekely, Ashley Adelman, Nicole Orabona & Janessa Floyd.

“Nellie and the Women of Blackwell” was written by Ashley Adelman and directed by Jessica Schechter, featuring stage manager Hadley Todoran, house manager Cassie Neals, assistant house managers Alexandria Thomas & Lucie Bhisitkul, costume design by Bree O’Connor, lighting and experiential and scenic design by Wildrence, and set and sound design by Andrew Dunn.

“Nellie and the Women of Blackwell” – presented by Infinite Variety Productions – runs at Wildrence from January 30th-March 8th.

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