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Carter and Edythe Jason
"Having Our Say" by Emily Mann, adapted
from the book by Sarah H. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy
With their home theater on Lasalle Street currently under renovations, The Morningside Players moved temporarily to an intimate new space called North of History, located on Columbus Avenue at 81st Street on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Their production of "Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years" became the new venue's inaugural production as a theater space. This play by Emily Mann, adapted from the book by Sarah H. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth, is a delightful two-character play about the renowned Delany sisters: Sadie, a retired teacher with a gentle disposition, age 103 at the time, and Bessie, a retired dentist still full of fight, age 101. The play had a successful run on Broadway, opening in 1995, and the sisters gave charming interviews on many major TV shows. I recall them recounting how amazed they were at the size of a luxurious stretch limo that one TV show sent for them. One of the sisters asked: "Is that all one car??"
In this production, actresses Carol Carter (as Sadie) and Edythe Jason (as Bessie) reminisce from their home in Mt. Vernon, NY, talking directly to the audience while cooking their late father's favorite dinner in his honor. The play moves at a leisurely, but always interesting pace, as the sisters address the audience with a fascinating oral history of their family and the world around them. As they look through a box of family photos, those shots are projected onto a screen at the back of the stage. Their grandfather was born into slavery; they initially lived in the South during the days of Jim Crow segregation; Bessie barely escaped being lynched. She also recalled attending dental school and receiving a failing grade for a paper that she had submitted. A white friend at the school subsequently submitted the same paper and easily got a passing grade. Sadie applied for a position teaching domestic science and, fearful of being rejected because of her race, didn't show up for the in-person interview. She was hired for the job based on her credentials, and laughed recalling the reaction at the school when she showed up to teach and they saw her for the first time.
There was a packed and very appreciative house for the final performance on March 5. The actresses, Carol Carter and Edythe Jason, worked beautifully together - totally convincing as sisters who had lived together their whole lives. Bessie, the dentist, died in 1994 at the age of 104, and Sadie, the teacher, died in 1999 at the age of 109. The play by Emily Mann, adapted from the book by the Delany sisters and Amy Hill Hearth, selected stories that revealed the intelligence, humor, resourcefulness, and dignity of the sisters, two remarkable and most admirable women.
The Delany sisters provided a fascinating lesson in history from people who lived it, as well as a visit with a very special family.
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