Three Generations of Imbeciles
A two-act stage play, Three Generations of Imbeciles shines a light on a disturbing event in U.S. history: the little-known practice of involuntary sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities.
The play follows an intellectually disabled woman’s struggle to reclaim her dignity by adopting a daughter after she is forcibly sterilized in a eugenics program. But when her daughter, who has Down syndrome, wants a child of her own, she must confront the doctor who sterilized her—and prove her fitness to be a mother all over again.
I wrote Three Generations of Imbeciles after his first daughter was born with Down Syndrome, leaning on my experience as both a professional writer and a stage performer. The play, including the title, was inspired by the real case of a Virginia woman, Carrie Buck, who challenged the state’s policy in the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1920s. After her challenge failed, nearly half of the states in the nation followed with their own sterilization programs. Sterilizations continued until the 1970s. Parts of the quotes from the court decision in this play are actual words from the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the Virginia sterilizations, including the pivotal declaration: “Three generations of imbeciles is enough.”
The Barcroft Players community theatre produced Three Generations of Imbeciles in Arlington, Virginia in June 2008. As the playwright intended, both of the characters with intellectual disabilities were played by actors with real intellectual disabilities.
Three Generations of Imbeciles requires five cast members and one simple set, and it employs staging to full dramatic effect—the joyful childbirth scene at the end is staged exactly like the dreadful sterilization surgery that opens the show.
Praise for Three Generations of Imbeciles