Maura Campbell has been writing, directing and producing plays ever since her premature mid-life crisis eleven years ago. Since then she has written more than thirty plays, taught high school and middle school drama, college screenwriting, and is looking forward to being the drama director at Gailer School in Shelburne, Vermont this fall.
She was received various awards and fellowships to support her work including Lamson Howell Foundation, Chandler Center for the Arts, and the AIDA Foundation. Campbell twice was awarded Best Drama from The Vermont Association of Theaters and Theater Agents for her plays, The Trial of Mrs. Rebecca Peake, and Acquainted with the Night. The Trial was first produced at Chandler Music Hall, and then at Chelsea High School and had a third production at Haskell Opera House in Derby, VT. Another play, Cleaning Day, was produced by Chandler Music Hall as part of their Terezin Project, and was again produced by Northern Stage (formerly in Burlington, VT), and again by Doctor Price Productions in Wales where it won best new production award at the Berwyn Festival.
Her most produced play is Below the Waist, a one-act farce concerning a vampire who consults a psychiatrist about his foot fetish. It has been produced by colleges and high schools all over the country and in Europe.
Campbell lives in Burlington, VT with her partner, Rick, and his and her children.
I first stumbled on the story of Mrs. Rebecca Peake in the mid-1990’s during a casual perusal of The History of Chelsea (VT). In 1832, I read, she was convicted of murdering her 32 year-old stepson, Ephraim, and was sentenced to hang; however, on the night before her execution she managed to take an overdose of opium and the crowd of ten thousand was…”spared the sight of seeing a woman hanged.”
Although Chelsea Courthouse burned down a few years later, someone saw to it that her trial was published. I found a copy at the Vermont Historical Library and began the research that would take me many years and lead me to write four plays about this woman. The first play, The Trial of Mrs. Rebecca Peake, is a courtroom drama that details the witch hunt and conspiracy around her arrest and conviction.
However, Mrs. Peake did not testify at her own trial and I was faithful to that in the play. I always felt, though, that she needed to tell her story and almost ten years later – and closer to two hundred years later for Rebecca – I believe I have let her speak as well as I can.
The play begins in South Randolph, VT in 1850. Rebecca is, of course, dead, but she haunts the house that was formerly hers and is now occupied by Dr. William Pember, the son of her own doctor and the doctor that attended her stepson, Ephraim Peake. Into this house comes the young doctor’s bride, Fiona, daughter of William’s medical professor. William has met Fiona while on a trip to Boston to visit the elder widower. He returns to Vermont, ponders a bit, and returns to Boston to ask for Fiona’s hand in marriage. In the interim, the doctor has passed away leaving nineteen year old Fiona orphaned. William marries her and brings her to his home.
Fiona believes her mother died when she was born. What she can’t know, and what her husband discovers when he is summoned back to Boston by Fiona’s family solicitor, is that her mother is very much alive, but has been in a private asylum since Fiona’s infant brother accidentally drowned. Fiona’s father’s estate is insolvent, however, and William must decide whether he can raise the money to keep his mother-in-law in a relatively comfortably environment, or allow her to be turned over to the state system of Massachusetts. And whether to tell the wife he barely knows.
Working in the house is thirteen year old Helen O’Grady, also an orphan. She is a servant who has escaped the potato famine in Ireland, but not before seeing her entire family starve to death, except for her sister who had married an American named Tom who works as the handy man around the Pember place. Helen is Irish through and through, and not only believes in fairies and ghosts, she sees them. Helen’s brother-in-law Tom is revealed to be a brute and clearly has his eye on this very young girl.
Rebecca, meanwhile, relives the trial, not only the court trial, but the trial that was her life, beginning with her childhood. Her influence is felt in the house in many ways, though, and what is she putting in the cups of water, and why is William’s brother, Clayton, becoming deathly ill?
Scrappy little Helen, sheltered innocent Fiona, and the accused and abandoned Rebecca: Self Evidence is about the sudden explosion that occurs when their lives entwine, and how dependent their fates become on each other.