Jamie Rowe, Copy Editor
It is said blood is thicker than water. It can also thicken as time passes, as the Delaney sisters prove in the International City Theatre’s production of Having Our Say. These two women lived to be more than 100 years old, accomplishing things not thought possible for black women in the early 20th century.
Sarah Louise “Sadie” (Amentha Dymally) and Annie Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany (Robin Braxton), ages 103 and 101, respectively, at the time of the play, are lively women with remarkable memories of events during the past century. They begin by welcoming the audience into their Mt. Vernon home, making sure to offer tea.
The stage is set up much like any grandmother’s home, with vertically patterned wallpaper, knick-knacks occupying shelves and relics of a past known only to the owners of the home. The set is an open layout of a living room, dining room and a kitchen. Each room possesses props really showing the lives of two “maiden ladies,” as the sisters like to be called.
The women themselves are dressed in the current fashions of grandmothers, Bessie in a long blue skirt, a long-sleeved, white button-up blouse and button up checkered jacket and Sadie in a flowing floral patterned dress, with both wearing heeled boots.
Dymally and Braxton even sound the part of 100-plus-year-old ladies describing their extraordinary lives, with interjections of “honey,” “child” and raucous laughter.
This is not an action-packed play; rather it is a history and civics lesson for those interested in the first-hand experiences of two black women who strove to better their lives. As the sisters explain, their parents taught all 10 children to work hard and be the best they could be, without relying on the charity of others.
The whole family lived on campus at St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, N.C. Eventually the sisters moved to Harlem, N.Y. Sadie graduates from Columbia Teachers College in 1920 but then returns to get her master’s in education. Bessie in the mean time receives a degree in dentistry and opens her practice in 1925.
The play feels like a gentle, inviting afternoon spent with your grandmother, but if you pay close attention, you’ll hear the women encouraging everyone to express their right to vote (they regale the audience with tales of the first time they were allowed to vote) and their rights to free speech (Bessie was at every protest in New York during the Civil Rights Movement).
Having Our Say may upset those with ears unaccustomed to terms of old, as the women use words like “colored” and “negro.” Bessie explains she is brown, not black. She is not African-American. She is an American and a colored woman. Along these lines, they discuss life under the Jim Crow laws, lynchings, treatment from whites, both good and bad, and how they overcame it all through playing dumb, outsmarting or just sheer luck.
Having Our Say runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. now until Sunday, May 20. Tickets are $32-$37 for Thursday nights and $37-$42 Friday, Saturday and Sunday. To purchase tickets call (562) 436-4610 or visit www.ictlongbeach.org.
The International City Theatre is located in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center at 300 East Ocean Boulevard.
Jamie Rowe, Copy Editor