When NBC TV weatherman Willard Scott acknowledged the one hundred year milestone birthdays of sisters Bessie and Sadie Delany on his SMUCKER’S celebratory salute, he may not have realized the incredible life and achievements of thee two “maiden ladies.” Born the daughters of a slave, they were raised in Raleigh, South Carolina on the campus of St. Augustine’s School to value their African-American heritage (they preferred to be called Negro or colored), to treasure education (they both graduated college and earned their own way), to hold family close and dear (they shared eight brothers and sisters) and to remain true and honest in all their words and deeds.
Open your hearts and welcome a visit with those two fine ladies at Long Wharf Theatre, until Sunday, March 13, and later at the Hartford Stage, Thursday, March 31 to Sunday, April 24, as they present the tender and moving “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years” by Emily Mann, adapted from the book of their memoirs recorded by Amy Hill Hearth.In need of an extra grandmother or two, you could not do better than adopting Bessie and Sadie who are 101 and 104 when the story opens on Alexis Distler’s inviting homey cottage set. Brenda Pressley as Bessie is delightfully feisty and independent of heart and spirit while Olivia Cole brings Sadie’s sweetness and shyness to the stage. Both ladies are wonderfully convincing and sincere as they tell their hundred year journey, one that spans the discriminatory Jim Crow laws, through their personal educational triumphs, their careers, their close family ties, to life in Harlem, across the Civil Rights trials and triumphs, to their current retirement in Mt. Vernon, New York.These ladies are smart and sharp and filled to the hat brim with wisdom and wit. As they prepare a feast to celebrate their long deceased and beloved father’s birthday, they freely reveal their unique take on life. Eating a clove of garlic, a spoonful of cod liver oil, stuffing their diet with vegetables, doing daily yoga (except on Sunday, which is devoted to church) and not having husbands to worry them are all clues to their longevity.Born to a family of achievers, Sadie became the first woman of color to teach home economics in a New York City high school (even if she had to cheat a little to make it happen), while Bessie became the second Negro woman licensed to practice dentistry in New York (one who never turned away a patient if they couldn’t pay). They cherished getting the right to vote in 1920, and never missed an election, because it earned them the right to complain. Proud Americans, they refused to let a lack of money or a lot of prejudice stop them. Jade King Carroll directs their charming and charismatic conversation.For tickets ($20-85), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org. For the Hartford Stage production, call 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org.Come applaud the dignity and devotion of the Delany sisters and the indelible mark they are guaranteed to leave on your heart.