‘Having Our Say,’ says a lot at Timber Lake Playhouse.
Opening show at Timber Lake Playhouse enjoyed a most rousing run of “Gypsy,” as second show, “Having Our Say, The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years,” opened Thursday evening. The dramatic, entertaining and inspiring play reaches deeply into our American history through the eyes of two remarkable women.
The play by Emily Mann began as a New York Times article by reporter Amy Hill Hearth in the early ‘90s. The article was quickly picked up to explore further into a published book. The book skyrocketed to bestseller lists for 105 weeks, then on to the Broadway play and CBS television film. Hearth could not have known the treasures that she had uncovered when she knocked on their door in Mt. Vernon.
The women, Sadie and Bessie Delany, had already passed the 100 year mark as they divulged their century of experience with passion, humor and often sadness. Daughters of a slave, they were proud, strong and deeply rooted in lessons of the Lord. We in the audience are guests in their modest abode as their oral history unfolds. They often speak in a loving unison, but then snap towels in huffy arguments.
They take us through the good, bad and frankly, cringe-worthy events of our perceived shared 20th century history. Most of us learned it in school from books, bored or not; the Delany sisters experienced it firsthand. At the advent of the Jim Crow laws with separate restrooms, drinking fountains and all else to force people of color away, the sisters headed northbound for New York where Bessie became a dentist and Sadie obtained her master’s degree in education. Both accomplishments were not without racial adversity there, either.
From then on, the sisters stood, marched, empathized with every cause including women’s rights and their vote, stock market crash, Great Depression, Post War, Civil Rights and every strife known to the century of greatest change. All while watching their parents, eight siblings and even the following generation die off until no one was left but them and their memories.
Young TLP actors Shayla Brielle and Jenia Head take on the enormity of the work in this play. Not only do they carry the heavy burden of an entire script, line by line, action by action, emotion by emotion, they take on the roles of centenarians that can hardly be imagined by two youthful performers that will sing and dance their way through rest of the TLP season with innocence and energy.
Last TLP season, Brielle was a powerhouse of energy as Dynamite in “Hairspray,” while Head performed previous roles in “Pluto Was a Planet,” and “Fame the Musical” at Illinois Wesleyan.
Their extraordinary transformation into the roles of Sadie and Bessie is largely due to Chuck Smith, who has earned himself much admiration at TLP in his 15th year as guest director from Chicago. Under his gentle, but effective, lead he pulled out a delicate blend of the slowness with shuffling and moseying, and the feistiness and spirit within; a remarkable communication to otherwise hot-to-trot young actors. Smith is also fortunate to have seen the Broadway play of ‘Having Our Say.’
Tucker Topel as set designer uses the TLP rotating set and also places a most effective overhead of classy picture frames that focus actual photos of family and events.
Must laugh, cry, and be inspired by this wonderful play, “Having Our Say, The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years” continues through Saturday, June 25 including three 2 p.m. matinees. Tuesday through Saturday evening shows at 7:30 p.m., (No shows Monday June 20, or evening June 19). The boonies theatre is a hop, skip and a jump to 8215 Black Oak Road, Mount Carroll. Call the box office at (815) 244-2035 or firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets, group rates and more information. (Not recommended for young children.)