Living a century of life, starting as the daughters of a slave and achieving success in teaching and dentistry, make Sadie and Bessie Delany incredibly special and the Hartford Stage is inviting you to make their acquaintance until Sunday, April 24. These two “maiden ladies” grew up in Raleigh, South Carolina on the campus of St. Augustine’s School where both their parents held positions. They were raised with their eight brothers and sisters to value their African-American heritage, to hold family close and dear and to be true and honest in all their dealings in life.
Do yourself a favor and attend 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. This is a co-production with Long Wharf Theatre where it played earlier this year.Director Jade King Carroll has a special connection to this production. When she was a teenager, she went with her father Balkida Carroll, who composed the original music for the Broadway production, to attend rehearsals. She got to meet and admire these ladies who were 101 and 103 at the time. She held their hands and now twenty years later she gets to tell their story.A unique Oral History Project “Having Their Say: Generations in Conversations” has been held with young African-American women paired with their counterparts who are 70 or older to explore their lives growing up in Hartford. Be sure to take time to hear their stories in the lobby display upstairs.In need of an extra grandmother or two, you could not do better than adopting Bessie and Sadie. 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.Smart and sharp and filled to their Sunday go-to-church hat brim with wisdom and wit, we meet these fine ladies 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, made even more touching because of her personal connections to the ladies in question.For tickets ($25-85), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org. Performances are Tuesday to Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.You’ll admire and applaud the dignity and devotion of the Delany sisters and the indelible mark they are guaranteed to leave on your heart.