When Southern Promises premiered in New York in 2008, Barack Obama was on the brink of becoming the country’s first black President. That provided an optimistic backdrop for Thomas Bradshaw‘s incendiary play about slavery. Even though it featured raw scenes of rape and brutality, it had a somewhat happy ending, inspired by the real-life saga of Henry “Box” Brown, a Virginia slave who successfully shipped himself to abolitionists in the North in a wooden crate. “It was easy, in a way, for audiences to feel good about themselves after it finished,” recalls Bradshaw, noting that it ended with the former slave rejoicing in his newfound freedom. The dramatist decided that if Southern Promises were ever revived, he wanted to leave theatregoers shaken, not soothed.