Imagine the changes you might experience if you lived a hundred years, especially if you start life as the daughter of a slave. That is the amazing historical reality for two remarkable sisters, who are now maiden ladies of 103 and 101, Sadie and Bessie Delany. Until September 15, they will be “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years” at Ivoryton Playhouse, a play by Emily Mann, adapted from the Book by Sarah L. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany, with Amy Hill Hearth.
Growing up in Raleigh, South Carolina on the campus of St Augustine’s School where both their parents held positions, these two forward thinking women achieving success in teaching and dentistry. 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.
In need of an extra grandmother or two, you could not do better than adopting Bessie and Sadie. Hope Harley as Bessie is delightfully feisty and independent of heart and spirit while Catherine Williams 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. Todd Underwood directs their charming and charismatic conversation, made even more touching because of homey set designed by Martin Scott Marchitto.
For tickets ($55 adults, $50 seniors, $25 students), call the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton at 860-767-7318. Tickets will not be sold online. Performances are Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., 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. All safety precautions will be observed.
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. Always planning for the future, Sadie and Bessie established a fund at the New York Community Trust to give grants to help “hang a rainbow in the sky” for people and families working to improve their lives. How sweet of them to care and fulfill their father’s philosophical statement that “your mission is to help somebody.”