Lakeisha Coffey (Bessie Delany) and Gayle Turner (Sadie Delany) in NC Theatre's HAVING OUR SAY. Photo by Curtis Brown Photography.
Adapted from a book by Sarah L. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany and based on the real lives of two extraordinary sisters, Emily Mann's Having Our Say, The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, beautifully directed by Tia James and onstage through North Carolina Theatre, is a fascinating look at the equally fascinating lives of two women born in 1889 and 1891. These two women, sisters named Sadie Delany (Gayle Turner) and Bessie Delany (Lakeisha Coffey) lived into and beyond 1993. It is in this year, however, that the play is set and that they get to "have their say" and recount their vast and varied experiences to a rapt audience.
The chemistry between the two leads is immediately visible and carries this character-driven show. Together, the two actors follow Mann's dense script to create a very real portrayal of the charming sisters and the familiar way in which they interact with one another. They interrupt, chide, and correct each other in a way that feels incredibly authentic. In fact, their chemistry, combined with David Griffie's highly detailed home set, make viewers feel exactly as if they are sitting with the Delanys in their home and getting to know them.
And, there's certainly a lot to get to know. Not only have these sisters lived for a very long time, but they've also lived through some of the most trying times in history. Born and bred in the Triangle, with much of their young lives spent on the campus of Saint Augustine University, the sisters discuss their personal histories, with a little local and United States history thrown into the mix as well, making this production feel almost like a journey through time.
Both Coffey and Turner are effective storytellers, adding in all the right pauses and mannerisms. And, director James has them moving around the set, cooking and relaxing, which adds an energy to the show and makes viewers feel a real part of these women's lives, like guests in their home who are being treated to their stories. And, while both sisters seem to accept their stories as just mere anecdotes in their lives, modern viewers will marvel at their tales and about what they say about the world of the past, how far we've come, and how much farther we still have to go.
Coffey is spunky and daring in her portrayal of Bessie, perfectly showcasing the character's strong spirit and the rightful sense of injustice she often feels. Turner, on the other hand, creates a soft, sweet Sadie who smiles and picks her battles in her own, more internal way, at least for the most part. Both portrayals work together to showcase the different ways in which people deal with life, with hardships, and with injustice.
And, while this story is largely about race and the role that race played in these women's lives, it's also just about life in general. It's about being human, about living, and about overcoming. An ultimately triumphant tale featuring two unforgettable women, this play also marks the newly-founded relationship between North Carolina Theatre and Saint Augustine University, both of which worked together to bring this play to life and to incorporate real artifacts from the Delany's lives into it.
Intriguing and important from start to finish, this play is thoughtful, insightful, and wonderfully entertaining, making it a must-see of the season
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