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Theater Review: "Having Our Say"

Thompson, Phillips, director Coleman-Reed and New Village Arts do the piece proud in this humorous and touching revival.
Photo credit:
New Village ArtsTheatre

You’ve got to love a couple of centenarians who cite this as the reason for their longevity: “We never married; we never had husbands to worry us to death.” 

Annie Elizabeth Delany and her sister Sarah Louise (aka Bessie and Sadie), were born in the South in the late 1800s.

Their father (who was born into slavery, which ended when he was seven) was something of an anomaly: his slave master taught him to read and write, and he eventually became the first black Episcopal bishop in the U.S.

He and his wife passed on their love of education to all ten children, who were raised on the campus of Saint Augustine School (now University), where Mr. Delany became vice-principal and his wife was a teacher and administrator.

They all lived by Papa’s dictum: “Your mission is to help somebody.”

Bessie and Sadie set some records of their own.

Bessie became the second black woman dentist in New York; Sadie the first black high school domestic science teacher in New York City schools.

“Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years” – the play adapted by Emily Mann from their combined memoir of the same title – gets a sparkling production through June 11 at New Village Arts in Carlsbad, directed by Melissa Coleman-Reed.

Tonight they putter in their lovely Mt. Vernon, New York house (beautifully designed by Christopher Scott Murillo), preparing a birthday dinner in honor of their father and telling us about their lives in the process.

This living memoir features two of the city’s finest actors as the sisters: Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson as Bessie and Milena (Sellers) Phillips as Sadie.

It’s difficult to imagine a better pair. Bessie is the feisty, outspoken one (“People learned not to mess with me from day one,” she says). Sadie is calmer, more agreeable, even a bit shy.

“Sadie is sugar and I’m the spice,” says Bessie.

Bessie and Sadie witnessed a lot of important history, including the political and civil rights turmoil of the ’60s and both world wars. Both died in the late 1990s, at the ages of 104 and 109 respectively. 

There’s a lot of humor in this piece, but their lifetime of confronting racism and discrimination are not slighted as the ladies reminisce about the bad old days and the good ones – the Jim Crow era and the civil rights activism of the ’60s, not to mention both world wars – and the people who helped or hindered them.

As Sadie puts it, “Life is short and it’s up to you to make it sweet.” 

Bessie and Sadie both died in the late 1990s, having lived 104 and 109 years, respectively.

Thompson, Phillips, director Coleman-Reed and New Village Arts do the piece proud in this humorous and touching revival.

The details

“Having Our Say” plays through June 11, 2017 at New Village ArtsTheatre, 2787 State Street, Carlsbad.

Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (760) 433-3245 or newvillagearts.org