[Metroactive Stage]

[ Stage Index | San Jose | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

Twin-Powered: As the Delany Sisters, Saidah Arrika Ekulona (left) and Brenda Thomas fill the night with stories in 'Having Our Say.'

Sisters Act

The Delany Sisters tell a century's worth of tales in 'Having our Say'

By Heather Zimmerman

PROBABLY EVERY CULTURE around the world teaches that we should heed the wisdom of our elders. Emily Mann's play Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years demonstrates the good sense of that universal philosophy. The real-life Delany sisters had more than a century each to amass considerable wisdom, and judging from the insights in Mann's play, which was based on the sisters' memoir, they took full advantage of their longevity. San José Repertory closes its season with a thoughtful and entertaining production of Having Our Say.

Sadie and Bessie Delany were two African American sisters who each lived beyond the age of 100--in fact, Sadie, the elder, died only last year, at the age of 109. The sisters wrote their memoir in the early 1990s, and Mann adapted their book for the stage, so that the play consists of the two elderly sisters, at 101 and 103, simply discussing their memories.

But this two-woman play moves surprisingly fast for a show consisting completely of reminiscences. The sisters are invariably entertaining storytellers as they talk about family history and recount events in their own lives to an unseen interviewer. Director Tazewell Thompson uses a light but effective touch in adding some action to what amounts to one long conversation.

Even at their advanced ages, these sisters have a vivacious spark in their smallest actions, and Thompson makes sure that it shows, even as the sisters do something as mundane as prepare dinner, although this particular dinner is far from ordinary. On the day the interviewer has come to visit, Sadie and Bessie are preparing an extensive menu of all their father's favorite foods in commemoration of his birthday.

The celebratory nature of this feast is representative of how Sadie and Bessie live; it seems likely that they were the two most well-adjusted souls on the planet. As Bessie and Sadie, respectively, Saidah Arrika Ekulona and Brenda Thomas magnificently capture the charm and intelligence of the Delany sisters.

Bessie has a vibrant fierceness, and an utter fearlessness. Genteel Sadie is ostensibly more conventional than her sister, but she has a toughness of her own. Together and individually, Sadie and Bessie are the quintessential iron butterflies, and as we learn, they've had to be.

Ekulona and Thomas also do an excellent job of projecting a sense of the pain and horror that Sadie and Bessie have lived through, from their defying Jim Crow laws as children to the uphill struggles each sister faced as African American women pursuing professional careers in the 1920s.

Oddly enough, the first impression when Ekulona and Thomas hobble onto the stage is that their studied physical affectations mimic very elderly people quite convincingly, but that every action is performed too quickly, as if these hunched centenarians had the energy, if not the bodies, of 30-year-olds. By the end of the play, however, Ekulona and Thomas have created such an amazingly genuine illusion, it's hard to believe that we haven't spent a couple hours in the company of the Delany sisters themselves.

The San José Repertory Theatre's production offers a wonderful celebration of two women, in their own words, and demonstrates that the true legacy of the sisters is their stories, both on a historical and personal level. The Delany sisters' experiences encompass the whole of the 20th century, both its downfalls and its triumphs, but their vivid storytelling says as much about the two women who survived these events as it does about the last century itself.

Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years plays Tuesday-Friday at 8pm, plus Wed (June 7) at noon, Saturday at 3 and 8pm and Sunday at 2 and 7pm through June 11 at San José Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $17-$35. (408.367.7255)

[ San Jose | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

From the June 1-7, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

Foreclosures - Real Estate Investing
San Jose.com Real Estate