Having Our Say | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Having Our Say



Having Our Say, Briar Street Theatre. Living long is the best revenge, if you live as well as the life-loving, resilient Delany sisters. And Emily Mann's wonderful 1995 play, adapted from Amy Hill Hearth's biography Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, is a theatrical gem, a Broadway hit and a sure success in Chicago (where it's also staged by Mann). In their Mount Vernon, New York, home these delightfully hospitable centenarian sisters regale us with their memories: their father was a slave, their mother a crusader, and family friends included Booker T. Washington, Paul Robeson, and Eleanor Roosevelt--the one white person they respected. Sadie (a former high school teacher) and Bessie (a former dentist who died last year at 104) together convey a century of living of which anyone would be proud.

Greeting us, spinning tales, and doing chores in the memento-packed rooms of Thomas Lynch's revolving set, these "maiden ladies"--not old maids, they caution--offer us dinner and invite us to spend the night, illustrating their anecdotes with slides from family albums. Elder sister Sadie (now 107) beams with the serenity of a tested saint, twinkling as she remembers the very extended Delany family--whites, blacks, browns, and all, it seems, fully loved. Feisty and impish, Bessie is the spice to Sadie's sugar, a woman who stood up to the "rebbie boys" (white bigots) and Jim Crow laws and once almost got lynched. Flawlessly performed by Frances Foster and Lizan Mitchell (who play off each other like a jazz duo), Sadie and Bessie aren't just golden girls full of downright decency: they personify a constant struggle against resurgent racism. It's enough to make you embrace old age, though few have so much to remember.

--Lawrence Bommer

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dan Rest.

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