By Dee Jae Cox
The first thing I heard as I took my seat for The CV Rep’s production of, “ Having Our Say, The Delany Sister’s First Hundred Years” was the 1930, Ethel Waters jazz/blues classic “What did I do to be so black and blue?” After my initial wide-eyed realization of how racist the song was, I later realized what a perfect choice it had been to set the mood and tone for the story of two ‘colored’ sisters, (Colored being the term they preferred) who had survived a century of American history. Emily Mann’s play, “Having Our Say, The Delany Sister’s First Hundred Years,” presented by The Coachella Valley Repertory, has got to be one of the most moving and poignant pieces of drama that I’ve seen cross the stage.
Chris Brown as 101 year-old Bessie and Regina Randolph as 103 year-old Sadie, tell the story of the Delany sisters who experienced a century of American History and were proud to talk about it. These two actresses are as stellar as they come. Both were beautiful and strong as the centurion sisters, Sadie and Bessie Delany. I was captivated from the moment they entered the stage. I hung on their every story, firmly believing that I had entered their world and was now a visitor in this beautifully crafted mid-century home. It does not get better than Chris Brown and Regina Randolph if you’re looking for top notch performances. They made me laugh, cry and feel especially honored as a guest in their home.
Mann’s script beautifully weaves together the pieces of two extraordinary lives. Born before the turn of the 20 th Century, these two sisters experienced the world that most only read about in history books. From coming of age with Jim Crow laws in the south to the Harlem Renaissance. Meeting Eleanor Roosevelt, watching the civil rights unfold under the greatness of a man like Martin Luther King Jr., confessing that they preferred Jimmy Carter over Reagan, though Bessie did love Eisenhower. And as Bessie said with a mischievous smile, “If you don’t vote, you don’t have a right to complain. And I surely don’t want to miss a chance to complain.”
From early Jazz to modern hip-hop, they saw it all and so did we as the audience was invited into their home while they prepared a dinner in celebration of their deceased father’s birthday. I could smell the turkey as they chatted and shared photos with the audience like we were old friends.
Jimmy Cuomo’s set is perfection. Detailed walls, furnishings and props all an ideal backdrop for the story being told. Aalsa Lee’s simple costumes and Lynda Shaeps hair and makeup, added the ideal touches of truth and to the characters as we were drawn into the lives of these 100+ year old women who moved with determination and definite control of all of their faculties.
Ron Celona’s direction brought the script to its full potential; casual, yet exact. More than busy work, each move had a purpose that supported the telling of this incredible story.
There is absolutely everything right about the CV Rep’s production of ‘Having our Say’. If you are looking for an excellent piece of theatre, this is the show to see. It is a personal and intimate oral history that can be appreciated and enjoyed by all ages.
Coachella Valley Repertory gets a four stars on Broadway rating, for having three plays written by women in their season. Bravo to Artistic Director Ron Celona whose efforts in bringing gender equality to theatre gets a standing ovation.
Having Our Say is in production at the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre located at 69930 Highway 111 , Suite 116, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270 from through February 8, 2015 with evening performances on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 PM and matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 PM.
For Reservations: call 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org
Dee Jae Cox, is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director for The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project and the host of KPTR 1450’s hit radio show, “California Woman 411” in Palm Springs.