HAVING OUR SAY, Chicago Theatre Company. “Life is short; it’s up to you to make it sweet.” That’s no cliche in Emily Mann’s moving 1995 play but one of many hard-earned pearls of wisdom in this generous portrait of two centenarian sisters. Based on the oral histories provided by Sadie and Bessie Delany before their deaths, Having Our Say shows how history begins at home. Douglas Alan Mann’s delightful revival couldn’t be more intimate.
Inviting us into their living room, dining room, and kitchen in the Mount Vernon, New York, home they’ve occupied since 1957 (warmly re-created by Patrick Kerwin), the ancient siblings–or, as they prefer to be called, “maiden ladies”–share tea and tales. Shy, ladylike Sadie (103), formerly a schoolteacher, and feisty, crusading former dentist Bessie (only 101) show us their family albums–the theater is small enough to see their snapshots–as they detail their journey from the Jim Crow bigotry of North Carolina to New York and the Harlem Renaissance. Now comes the “big project” of old age: turning it all into art and history.
Though much, much younger than their parts (and not altogether convincingly made up), Linda M. Bright and E.J. Murray are persuasive as the spunky survivors, devout women never worn down by marriage who lived for their many siblings and relations. Bright is graciousness itself as sweet-tempered Sadie, Murray a nonnegotiable life force as Bessie. Let them have their say.