Come in, sit a spell, and visit with the Delany sisters, two African-American “maiden ladies,” as they would like to be called, who were born and raised in Raleigh, NC, and who lived through the tumult of prejudice, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement. Their fascinating story is told by the Delany sisters themselves, while sitting in their family room, in the North Carolina Theatre‘s Nov. 8-10 and 12-17 production of Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, a 1995 play written by Emily Mann and directed for NCT by Tia James.
Sarah Louise “Sadie” Delany (1889-1999) and Annie Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany (1891-1995), played at NCT by Gayle Turner and Lakeisha Coffey, respectively, tell us that they are getting ready to prepare a birthday dinner in honor of their deceased father; and we are asked to keep them company while they cook. As the sisters serve us tea and start cooking, they begin to reflect on their family and their lives. As both ladies have passed the age of 100 years old, they have an amazing story to tell!
Sadie, born in 1889, and Bessie, born in 1891, were two of the 10 siblings of Henry Beard Delany (1858-1928), who was born a slave. At the end of the Civil War (1861-65), he was offered the opportunity to get an education at St. Augustine’s College (now University) in Raleigh. There he met Nanny Logan Delany (1861-1956), who was to become the valedictorian of their class.
Henry Delany, or “papa” as the sisters call him, became the first black bishop of the Episcopal Church. Henry and Nanny Delany raised their family at St. Augustine’s, and they taught their children the value of education and taking care of one’s self. As the sisters explain, “10 cents of every dollar earned should go to the Lord; 10 cents to the bank (“hard times money”); and the rest is yours — but spend it wisely!”
The children were all taught to read and write in a time when doing so was against the law. The South was a hard place to be a person of color, so the Delany kids all ended up moving to the New York area, where they delighted in meeting people from all walks of life and all countries. They spent most of their adult lives and their careers in the New York area and, ultimately, bought a house in Mt. Vernon, New York.
Sadie went on to college and got her master’s degree in education in 1925 from Columbia University in New York City. Through her ingenuity, she landed a position at an all-white high school, where they were surprised to learn her race on the first day of school, but who kept her on when she proved to be a terrific teacher.
Sadie’s sister, Bessie, hoped to be a doctor. When racism kept Bessie from medical school, she made her own path into the medical profession by becoming a dentist. She was the only African American and one of a handful of women in her graduating class.
During NCT’s presentation of Having Our Say, the ladies share with us a lifetime of lessons and struggle. They stress the value of family and faith. They work seamlessly as a team, while cooking and while sharing their stories. They met famous musicians and Civil Rights activists of their time, and found strength to face adversity. “After all, they were Delanys. They were not afraid of adversity!”
Sadie got through their travails by turning the other cheek; but Bessie stood up for herself, no matter the consequences. As they say, they balance each other out. Although Bessie, teased that while she knew her sister would make it into heaven, since she was so ornery through life, she was still unsure how St. Peter would handle her arrival at the Pearly Gates.
Props go to set designer David Griffie, who has created a magical treat for the eyes. Through three levels of the house, the kitchen, family room, and dining room, the Delany sisters wander about, treat us like company, and show us real photos from the past. Projection designer/scenic artist David Rawlins does a remarkable job choreographing the story through black-and-white pictures projected above and behind the stage, allowing the audience to get to know the characters through real photos from the Delany family album.
As these two sisters go about their cooking, they chat with us like we are welcomed visitors, teaching us how to keep our own heads up during adversity, and reminding us about the humanity in us all. As the stories unfold, the smells of the casserole and roast waft through the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater. As they peel the oranges for their ambrosia salad, we can smell the tang of the rind. It’s amazing, and we are really sitting in their living room visiting with these amazing women.
Gayle Turner is superb as Sadie Delany, whose gentle strength and love for her sister shines brightly through her eyes. Lakeisha Coffey strikes a perfect pose as a rightly stubborn and proud Bessie Delany. These two actresses strike a perfect balance of those who love each other deeply and have faced adversity together.
From the Department of Picky-Picky: If only we could have had plate of that home cooking and a slice of that pound cake! We can dream, can’t we!
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 10th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW Review Nicole Ackman: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-HAVING-OUR-SAY-North-Carolina-Theatre-20191110; Nov. 9th Cary, NC RDU on Stage review by Gus Allen: https://rduonstage.com/2019/11/07/theater-review-chazz-palminteris-bio-musical-a-bronx-tale-falls-a-bit-flat/ and Oct. 31st interview with Gayle Turner, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert: https://rduonstage.com/podcast/ep-43-having-our-say-with-gayle-turner/; Nov. 6th Cary, NC Cary Magazine preview Amber Keister: https://www.carymagazine.com/features/having-our-say-still-has-power-to-inspire/; and Oct. 30th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview Byron Woods: https://indyweek.com/events/having-our-say-duke-energy-center-november-2019/.
The North Carolina Theatre presents HAVING OUR SAY: THE DELANY SISTERS’ FIRST 100 YEARS at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12-15 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16 and 17 in A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $30 and up, except $20 college-student tickets.
NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944, or http://www.nctheatre.com/tickets/season-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/369155/2598126.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941, ext. 6949; firstname.lastname@example.org; or http://nctheatre.com/groups.
SHOW: https://nctheatre.com/shows/having-our-say-delany-sisters-first-100-years, https://www.facebook.com/events/689248038190884/, and https://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/events/having-our-say-north-carolina-theatre.
NCT STUDY GUIDE: https://nctheatre.com/sites/nct/files/HOS%20Study%20Guide.pdf.
2019-20 SEASON: https://nctheatre.com/show-season/201920-season.
NCT NEWS RELEASE: https://nctheatre.com/blog/cast-announced-having-our-say.
PRESENTER: http://www.nctheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre, https://twitter.com/nctheatre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/nctheatre.
NCT BLOG (Stage Notes): http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes.
NOTE: There will be a Talk-Back Panel Discussion, with members of the production and members of the community after the 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16th, performance.
Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years (1993 oral history of Sarah Louise “Sadie” Delany and Annie Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany, compiled by Amy Hill Hearth): http://www.amyhillhearth.com/1993__having_our_say__the_delany_sisters__first_100_years__new_york__kodansha_ame_131586.htm (Amy Hill Hearth’s web page) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Having_Our_Say:_The_Delany_Sisters%27_First_100_Years (Wikipedia).
The Book: https://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years (1995 play): https://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1917 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-production/having-our-say-4293 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Having_Our_Say:_The_Delany_Sisters%27_First_100_Years#Broadway_play (Wikipedia).
The Script: https://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Emily Mann (playwright): http://www.iobdb.org/CreditableEntity/10510 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/emily-mann-5394 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0542745/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Mann_(director) (Wikipedia).
Tia James (director): https://playmakersrep.org/artists/tia-james/ (PlayMakers Repertory Company bio), http://www.iobdb.org/CreditableEntity/38821 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/tia-james-488835 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm4384865/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://www.facebook.com/tia.james.1485/ (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.