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BWW Review: HAVING OUR SAY in New Haven

Tell me more! That's the feeling I had after seeing Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, Emily Mann's marvelous play about the indomitable sisters Miss Sadie Delany and Dr. Bessie Delany. Most people remember reading about the two women who broke some glass ceilings as they triumphed over the main isms - male chauvinism, racism and ageism.

This play was based on The New York Times best-selling book of the same name. It has been produced at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, on Broadway, on national tour, on television, and now in Connecticut, running through March 13 at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven and from March 31 through April 24 at the Hartford Stage Company. Even if you saw the show before, treat yourself to it again. The play is wonderful, but what makes this production definitive are the casting by Laura Stanczyk Casting, CSA of Olivia Cole as the gracious Miss Sadie and Brenda Pressley as the feisty Dr. Bessie, Jade King Carroll's smooth direction, and Alexis Distler's impeccable set and video design. This trifecta gives the production total authenticity.

If all you know about the Delany sisters is that they lived to be more than 100 years old, here are things you should know about them. They were two of ten children born to a former slave who became the first African-American bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States. Their mother was an administrator at St. Augustine's School (now St. Augustine's University). All their children were college-educated. Sadie was the first black person to teach domestic science at a New York City high school. Bessie became second black female dentist. Although they lived a good life with their family on the campus of St. Augustine's School, they were not sheltered from racism. When the Jim Crow laws were passed, they moved to Harlem and eventually became involved in the civil rights movement.

You get to know a lot of this from the play. Thanks to Distler's set and the intimacy of the Long Wharf Theatre, you almost feel as if you are sitting in the Delany sisters' Mount Vernon home and having tea with them. They are neighbors you wish you had. You know their family not just their reminiscences, but by the pictures they show you from their box of photos and the projections on the "attic" of the set. But there isn't a lot of sitting around by the two fine actresses who play Bessie and Sadie. On stage, they prepare a meal and the audience can smell the food as the two actresses chop the vegetables, truss the chicken, and set the table as if they've been doing it together for years.

The timing of this production at the Long Wharf Theatre couldn't be better, what with the coming end of the nation's first biracial president and this year's #OscarsSoWhite with Chris Rock's comments. How prescient are Gordon Edelstein and Joshua Borenstein?

There's more. The wisdom is spot on. "Life is short," says Sadie, "and it's up to you to make it sweet." The humor is relevant, with the reference to "those clowns in Congress." Bessie's remarks, "When people ask me how we've lived past one hundred, I say, 'Honey, we never married. We never had husbands to worry us to death.'" And "I'm just as good as anyone else. That's the way I was brought up," and after a moment adds, "I'll tell you the truth. I think I'm better!" They're both truly amazing women from whom we can learn a lot.

For more information, call the Long Wharf Theatre at (203) 787-4282 (www.longwharf.org) or the Hartford Stage at (860) 527-5151 (www.hartfordstage.org).


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