This event is the first in the Explorations in the Medical Humanities series to feature an original creative piece, Krista Knight’s new play Lipstick Lobotomy (2018). Knight is currently the Writer-in-Residence in Cinema & Media Arts and Theatre at Vanderbilt University, and the play has never been fully staged. Drawing on Columbia’s institutional history, we will host a dramatic reading of the play in Buell Hall, the only remaining building from the psychiatric institution formerly located on the University site. This one-off production will feature a dramatic reading of Knight’s play by local actors, commentary from the playwright and director, and a brief history of Columbia’s architectural/institutional history as a psychiatric facility. The reading is intended to present the gendered and political history of lobotomy as a widely-performed psychiatric procedure in the mid-20th century, and, more generally, to explore the ways in which dramatic performance can engender new ways of thinking about medical testimony.
Lipstick Lobotomy imagines the playwright’s great aunt Ginny and JFK’s little sister Rosemary Kennedy meeting at an exclusive high-end sanitarium for women in the fall of 1941. Ginny is desperate to be friends with the charismatic and stylish Rosemary and is not satisfied with the talk therapy at the Institute and pressures her doctors for more aggressive treatment. Meanwhile, Rosemary, forced into the institute by her famous family because of her intellectual disability, keeps trying to escape. The famous surgeon Dr. Walter Jackson Freeman II visits the Institute to perform a lobotomy on one of the patients, and Rosemary is selected for the treatment because of her Kennedy family connections. The surgeons go too far and Rosemary is incapacitated to the mental level of a 3-year-old. Ginny sees Rosemary, debilitated by the “botched” lobotomy, yet decides to get the procedure herself. Ginny has learned what a lobotomy is, its risks and complications, and still won’t face a future without it.