“Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years”
Long Wharf Theatre
Long Wharf Theatre’s warm and wonderful production of Emily Mann’s play, “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years,” is quite a treat. Adapted from the book of the same name, which was written by Sarah L. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany, with Amy Hill Hearth, “Having Our Say” is essentially a chronicle of these two African American sisters’ lives over the course of more than 100 years. The play is presented in three parts (there are two brief intermissions), with the two Delany Sisters (perfectly played by Olivia Cole and Brenda Pressley) recounting their family history to the audience. The way that the play is set up, the two sisters talk directly to the audience, as if they have just invited everyone to their house for tea, and Olivia Cole and Brenda Pressley make such good company (and are so welcoming and funny), that one doesn’t want the show to end. Skillfully directed by Jade King Carroll, the Delany sisters have a lot to say in “Having Our Say” and this Long Wharf production proves to be a real joy.
First presented on Broadway in 1995 (when the two Delany sisters were actually still alive), the play is set in their home (gorgeously designed by Alexis Distler) in Mt. Vernon, New York. During the course of the show, there are also lovely projections of photos of the sisters’ family (video design also courtesy of Alexis Distler) that help to endear the audience to these two women even more. I suppose, in a way, that “Having Our Say” is something of a history lesson, as well, but one filled with humor, anecdotes, and many stories, both happy and sad. To watch “Having Our Say,” it is remarkable to realize what these women have lived through and, also, it is so fortunate that their history was preserved forever in this show.
Since this is a two character play, it is of upmost importance that the roles of the Delany sisters are well cast. Long Wharf Theatre is blessed to have two superb actresses portraying these women. As the older sister, Sadie, Olivia Cole is simply terrific, both funny and deeply touching. And, speaking of funny, Brenda Pressley is often a riot as Bessie, the younger sister, and her performance is filled with sassy humor, though she has an emotional side, as well. Individually, these actresses are a delight, but, together, whether recounting tales of their parents or cooking in their kitchen, they prove to be even more impressive. These two women truly seem like they are a pair of sisters who have spent over a century together. The fact that the bond between Olivia Cole and Brenda Pressley feels genuine and authentic makes the work of these actresses an absolute treasure.
Just about everything in Long Wharf Theatre’s production of “Having Our Say” works gloriously well, from the detailed and inviting set, to the appropriate costumes (designed by Karen Perry) and the ideal lighting design by Nicole Pearce. Also, a big thumbs up to to Carol “Cici” Campbell’s wig design, which makes both actresses appear like they have lived over a hundred years together. And, of course, credit is due to director Jade King Carroll for keeping the show flowing smoothly from start to finish.
But, in the end, there are the Delany Sisters, and both Olivia Cole and Brenda Pressley are pretty remarkable as these sisters. “Having Our Say” feels like a cozy, pleasurable, deeply moving visit with some wonderful new friends who have a lot to say, all of it interesting and some of it a great deal of fun, even as the Delany sisters acknowledge the tough times that they have lived through and how they managed to ultimately triumph over just about everything. For these reasons alone, “Having Our Say” at Long Wharf Theatre is definitely worth a trip to bask in the glow of these two women, who can truly touch your heart.
“Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years” continues performances at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT through March 13, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.longwharf.org or call the box office at 203-787-4282.