by Beverly Creasey
America fell in love with the Delaney sisters when they published their autobiography at ages 101 and 103. The press made a fuss. Oprah made a fuss. Then Emily Mann made a play out of their extraordinary memoirs.
Luckily for us, New Rep is presenting the Boston premiere of "Having Our Say, The Delaney Sisters' First 100 Years" with two of Boston's top actresses Jacqui Parker and Kathy Woods portraying these elegant centenarians. New rep could have imported actors from New York , as a lot of other companies do, but this production proves that theater in Boston can hold its own against the Big Apple.
The incomparable Lois Roach directs with a sensitive and loving touch, and a remarkable feel for balance. The sisters explain (often in unison) that they "balance each other out" and although they agree to disagree, the warmth comes through so powerfully it's palpable.
These are women we know: our aunts, our teachers our doctors --- Dr. Bessie was in fact a dentist and Miss Sadie a teacher --- and yet we often don't know the rich stories hidden behind the wrinkled faces.
Playwright Mann cleverly sets the play in the Delaney apartment with us as their guests --- as if we've just come for tea, and have asked them to tell us what it was like to live through one hundred years of American history.
While the sisters spin out their lives, we see slides which mark the years, showing proudly family portraits in some and frightening portraits of the South under Jim Crow in others. Imagine living through two world wars and countless personal and national struggles --- and told from a woman's perspective, to boot! From North Carolina to Harlem to Mount Vernon, these two courageous women did and saw it all.
At the heart of "Having Our Say" are the personalities of these two gracious and remarkable women. Kathy Woods brings a nobility and deep strength to her portrayal of the "older" sister; inner peace literally radiates from Sadie. You can sense the disciplinarian she must have been, and at the same time you sense the reserve.
Jacqui Parker captures Dr. Bessie's spunk in her sparkling, laughing eyes. The hands may be arthritic, but Bessie is unmistakably the feistier of the two. You can witness the delight she feels at all the attention of the of the rapt audience --- and no one listens better than Parker does.
From Eric Levenson's warm, soft lighting and his slides, which blur slightly like they would in the memory as they are projected onto the pale peach walls of Janie E. Howland's genteel apartment set --- to Kristin Loeffler's "no nonsense" clothes for the ladies, right down to their sensible shoes, the New Rep production is a gift.