Philadelphia Theater Company Staging Pioneering Black Play

“Rachel” by Angelina Weld Grimké premiered in New York in April 1917. When the show opened, it made history as the first play written by an African American author with an all-black cast to be performed before an integrated audience. Now, the play will be making its Philadelphia debut at the Quintessence Theatre Group in Mount Airy.

“Rachel” tells the story of an African-American family struggling to achieve liberty and happiness in a Northern city. The play’s eponymous protagonist, an ambitious high school graduate, tries to find a career and love in the face of systemic racism. Ultimately, Rachel rejects both the paths of motherhood and marriage.

Alexandra Espinoza, the director of Quintessence’s production of the show, described how the play reverberates today. “‘Rachel’ is a play that is both specific to its time and chillingly prescient for our current moment,” said Espinoza. “Angelina Weld Grimké was a black, queer woman who wrote this play in 1915 as a direct repudiation of the white supremacist propaganda film, ‘Birth of a Nation.'”

Angelina Weld Grimké came from a lineage of history-making women; she was the great niece of Angelina Grimké Weld (after whom she is named) and Sarah Moore Grimké, abolitionists involved in the American Antislavery Society.

Rachel” opens at the Quintessence Theatre Group on January 29 and runs until February 23.