“SHEILA’S DAY:” POIGNANT, POWERFUL, PRIDEFUL

 

BONNIE GOLDBERG

“Sheila’s Day,” a unique journey across two continents, connects women, sisters of the skin, from Soweto Township, Johannesburg, South Africa to Perry County, Alabama in a musical and storied tapestry of pain and joy.  Performed a cappella in a ninety minute presentation, produced by the Hartford Stage in collaboration with the Connecticut Theater Festival, “Sheila’s Day” was conceived and written by Duma Ndlovu and co-created by Mbongeni Ngema, with additional material by Ebony Jo-Ann.

Until Sunday, August 15, you have the opportunity to be swept up in the tragedy and triumph of the black spirit and soul as ten women interface on the struggles for freedom and justice in the 1960’s civil rights movement here and abroad.  With the echo of Zulu drums and the powerful tunes of blues, gospel and spirituals, dressed in traditional garb of black and blue, a commentary all its own, this female ensemble opens our eyes to their world.

Interwoven are the stories of Qedusizi, portrayed by a spirited Thuli Dumakude, in Africa and Rudy Lee, brought to life by a vibrant Ann Duquesnay, in Alabama as each struggles to survive and persevere in an environment that is hostile to their needs.  “Sheila” refers to the name wealthy white South African ladies give to their maids because it is simply too difficult to learn their real names, their tribal names.  For the most part, these domestics are invisible and interchangeable.  Thursdays are their days off, the day they are free to meet and exchange and share experiences and call upon their spiritual ancestors to heal them through prayer.

A collective power is released and enhanced as Qedusizi marches to Pretoria to end apartheid and unite her country and as Ruby loses her job as a maid when she is on the same bus as Rosa Parks and a 381 day bus strike is triggered.  Whether it is a lunch counter sit-down protest at Woolworth’s,  a bus of Freedom Riders who meet the Ku Klux Klan or the brutal beating of a black man at a train station whose only crime was defending a domestic worker, these testimonials speak to our collective conscience.  Ricardo Khan directs this strong female assemblage with power and poignancy.

For tickets ($23-66), call the Hartford Stage at 860-527-5151 or go online to www.hartfordstage.org.  All performances will be at the Roberts Theatre at Kingswood-Oxford School on Trout Brook Drive in West Hartford while the Hartford Stage is being renovated.  Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Sunday and selected Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m.

For insights into the human heart and courage to overcome obstacles, to prevail and thrive over adversity, let this stirring sisterhood take you along on their personal and historical musical odyssey.

 

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