Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Having Our Say
Enter Emily Mann's Having Our Say, the second production in Primal Forces' new season at the Sol Theatre in Boca Raton. Avery Sommers and Karen Stephens portray true-life sisters Sarah L. Delany, or Sadie, and A. Elizabeth Delany, or Bessie, respectively. The result is an absorbing, two-hour (with one intermission) look into the lives of two unmarried black women sojourning through a racist and unjust American history.
Having Our Say begins with set designer Nicole DeCicco's charming vintage array spread over kitchen, dining, and living room areas. The sturdy, hardwood dining chairs look like they've stood the test of time and the Queen Anne legs on the arm chairs lend a touch of class. Both are perfect for the regal ladies who reside in this Mount Vernon, New York, home.
We meet 101-year old Bessie, a former dentist, and her elder sister Sadie, a 103-year old former teacher. Sadie was the first African American permitted to teach domestic science at the high-school level in New York public schools. Bessie was the second black woman licensed to practice dentistry in New York state. With major accomplishments under their belts, the ladies invite the "new people," patrons of each performance, over for tea to regale them about past trials and triumphs. Adorned in Alberto Arroyo's neat and colorful costumes, they are smartly dressed as they welcome us into their home.
Complimenting one another as sugar and spice, Sadie, the sugar of the combo, is more patient, friendly and accommodating, but can take control when necessary. Bessie, the spice, is a bit firecracker, a bit ornery, and always speaks her mind, but defers to older Sadie as the boss. Together, they navigate life with the "rebby boys", a term that includes all prejudiced whites. While weaving through Jim Crow, the duo also chronicle their limited history with boys and their generous family tree. The latter is presented in a handsome slideshow of old family photos that serve as a wonderful backdrop for the nostalgia.
Adapted from the book with the same namesake by Sarah, Elizabeth, and journalist Amy Hill Hearth, Having Our Say is a light-hearted retelling of the events of the sisters' lives. Although the opening scenes play out as being too talky with little action, the narrative brightens when the actors begin to prepare a meal (with real food) in honor of their deceased father. Like being in a live studio for a cooking show, we watch as vegetables are diced and all the ingredients for macaroni and cheese and ambrosia are prepared. A beautiful table is set with fine linen and cutlery for an important guest. Part of the fun and the intrigue is wondering if dishes will be distributed for a tasting. It is easy to feel right at home in this warm and familial environment.
Another aspect of the show that brings great comfort is the ease in which Stephens and Sommers slip into their roles. Under Genie Croft's direction, the twosome make expert use of the small stage and sidestep one another without a hitch. Despite a couple of flubbed lines, the performances are poignant and pointed, with Stephens taking slightly more of the spotlight because of the exuberant person she embodies. For the lower lights, Guy Haubrich dresses each scene nicely.
Having Our Say is an exploration of times past and how they inform the present. It is also a biographical account of the Delany legacy: a legacy of strength, endurance and hope.
Primal Forces' Having Our Say, through February 3, 2019, at the Sol Theatre, 3333 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton FL. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at www.primalforces.com or by calling 866-811-4111.