Sheila’s Day -- Undaunted Spirit

By Bob and Karen Isaacs

Hartford Stage Company has opened its 2010-11 season while its Church Street venue is getting a facelift in its temporary facility at Roberts Theatre in the Kingswood-Oxford School in West Hartfprd with a spirited production of the award-winning Crossroads Theatre Company’s staging of Sheila’s Day.

The current production will run through August 15, and the next production, Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, will open October 13 in HSC’s Church Street site in Hartford.

Meanwhile you can see Sheila's Day, a rousing gospel and blues experience set on two continents -- in Perry County, Alabama, and Soweto Township, Johannesburg. Sheila's Day offers general and personal stories from two groups of women which reveal racial injustice and triumph in both areas. Sheila's Day was written and conceived by Duma Ndlovu and co-created by Mbongeni Ngema. Ricardo Kahn co-founder and creative advisor to the Crossroads Theatre Company, directs the10 actors as they offer parallel scenes between the two societies as each struggles with racial bias.  The title of the work is based upon the general name that was given to domestic workers in South Africa because their white employers presumably could not distinguish one from the other nor pronounce their real names.

The play moves between South Africa and Alabama portraying a variety of incidents some of which are well known in America and others not so prominent here.  However, the incidents portrayed capture the sting of the racist situations and the struggle to alter the world in which these situations exist. It highlights the parallels in the women’s experiences – the struggle for civil rights both in the US South and in South Africa, and the indignities these individual women face as cleaning ladies/housekeepers for white women in both societies.

You will certainly be moved by the impossible situation of a black woman in South Africa who gets caught up in a racial incident while attempting to find a job. Other incidents in South Africa convey a variety of abuses, but especially the need for a black woman to have a passbook to move and work.  In America there is a portrayal of the struggle initiated by Rosa Parks and the violence of the voter registration drives in the 1960s.

The cast of Sheila’s Day is led by two dynamic actresses, Broadway veteran Ann Duquesnay who won a Tony for her performance in Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da  Funk and Thuli Dumakude who has appeared on Broadway in The Lion King and Rosa and is musical director of Sheila’s Day. Seven of the eight other cast members are making their first appearances at Hartford Stage and the eighth, Julia Lema, was previously seen at Hartford stage in Crowns.

This is a rousing experience complete with Zulu chants, drums, and a variety of other instruments all of which combine to produce a memorable experience in theater that spiritedly catches the history and triumph of the human spirit.

This production of Sheila’s Day, is a stimulating theatrical experience and well-worth a visit.

Sheila’s Day, presented by the Hartford Stage Company,is at the Roberts Theatre in the Kingswood-Oxford School in West Hartford through Aug. 15. For tickets and information call 860-527-5151 or online at

This review appeared in Shore Publications.

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