‘My Mother Says’ Go See ‘Matilda’ at The Bushnell

Sometimes it’s okay to be a little naughty when standing up to what’s right.

That’s what genius five-year-old Matilda (played by Sarah McKinley Austin, Lilly Brooks O’Briant and Savanna Grace Elmer depending on the performance) learns as she wades through immorality and cruelty at home with her “bookworm”-hating eccentric dance-obsessed mother (Cassie Silva) and scamming car salesman father (Quinn Mattfeld) and at school facing intolerable and intimidating Olympic hammer throw champion and Crunchem Hall Headmistress Miss Trunchbull (David Abeles).

Roald Dahl’s Tony Award-winning musical “Matilda” opened at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford Wednesday and runs through Sunday, May 1.

While the movie rendition focuses heavily on Matilda’s discovery of her magical powers to move objects with her eyes, that is only a small part of the musical. The stage version is much darker and digs deeper into the psyche and layers the child’s perspective with serious and mature themes from the adult world.

The most captivating part of Matilda’s abilities besides her telekinesis, intelligence and rebelling shenanigans, from getting her dad to dye his hair green to super-gluing his hat, is her storytelling talents. Sometimes what Matilda says comes from things she’s experienced in her life that she seemingly fictionalizes into the tragic tale about the acrobat and the escape artist. Other times she tells lies so innocent and yet so believable and calculated to protect victims like her fellow students targeted by Trunchbull, using deceptive means to accomplish a greater purpose of good. Sometimes she tells lies she wishes she believes, like telling the librarian and her teacher, Miss Honey (Jennifer Blood) that her parents lover her so much and tell her how special she is. In those minutes she shields her heart from the outside world.

Her stories are very disturbing and troublesome, containing much deeper material than the mind of your average 5-year-old normally generates. Yet her stories are captivating, particularly to quirky, imaginative librarian Mrs. Phelps (Ora Jones), who is always begging Matilda for more, reversing the normal relationship between adult and child.

Unlike in the movie, the story of the acrobat (Ashley Elizabeth Hale) and escape artists (Justin Packard), perhaps symbolizing better, loving forms her own parents, becomes a central motif to the story. It comes to Matilda piece by piece, much to the eager Mrs. Phelps’ dismay, and surprises its author most of all when Matilda realizes the story she is telling is based on a real childhood tragedy of another major character. I’ll try not to spoil it for you by telling you who. That’s just one way the play presents the mystique of the imagination and the process of telling a story.

The set and lighting in “Matilda” help bring the magic to life, especially when the set is woven into the choreography like the swings or when two of the actors climb the Crunchem Hall gate, stepping on letter blocks other actors push into place right as they become lit. The gradual disappearance of Trunchbull’s chocolate cake as Bruce (Ryan Christopher Dever) devours it remains a mystery, though I have my theories!

Bruce’s paper airplane landed in the front row at another point in the show and I was impressed that it wasn’t just a paper airplane made of any old paper. It actually was made of his report card even though you wouldn’t normally see that from the audience. That’s how detailed this production is.

The ensemble is a key ingredient to bringing “Matilda” to life, with many of the adult actors doubling as the older children at the school, showing that there still is the wonderment of a child in all of us. I saw this play on Broadway a couple years ago when it first came to the U.S. after debuting in England and I was still impressed by the phenomenal dancing of the children, all moving in dynamic and powerful adult-like jerky movements that are so precise and controlled. They also told stories with the expressions on their faces which were so emphatic they added character and emotion. One of them, a tiny expressive blond girl with pig tails, did not even flinch when Abeles swung her around by the pigtails. The children fearlessly vaulted, somersaulted and flipped in a phys ed scene enforced by the Trunchbull, as did Abeles.

Speaking of Abeles, he takes on one of the great, memorable stage roles of a woman cast as a male (like Mrs. Turnblad in “Hairspray, for instance), often intended as a vehicle for comedy. And he delivers that all the while playing his character straight and terrifying because he’s recognizably a guy.

In contrast, Jennifer Blood is gentle and sweet as Miss Honey. Her voice is as pure as her character.

More emphasis is placed on character voices and movement than sweet singing in a lot of the vocals, which are often accented and chaotic, but that is what makes the production so captivating. The opening birthday scene when all of the children, dressed in outfits from princesses to Spiderman, are saying what “my mommy says” in shrill succession, it sets up the importance of family and parenthood while also likening the dynamics to madness.

One of the funniest characters in the show doesn’t say much at all and that is Matilda’s dimwitted brother, Michael (Danny Tieger), whose high-pitched exclamations of single words as he keeps his eyes wide and fixed on the “telly” are priceless.

Silva’s urgency as Mrs. Wormwood to get to her ballroom dancing competition after asking her doctor why she’s fat on the day she gives birth to Matilda and Mr. Wormwood’s denial that Matilda isn’t a boy (she’s a girl) when he can’t find her “fingy” are hilarious in their irony, setting up the whole twisted relationship between her and her parents.

Mattfeld has a “Rooster”-like quality (“Annie”) as the goofy sham man trying to be smart by deceiving “The Russians” by selling “knackered” cars for higher prices.

One of my favorite moments, and I might be biased, was leading back into intermission. Mattfield, accompanied by Tieger on tiny guitar (plink!), apologizes to the audience for what they have seen and says a seeming disclaimer that children should not do these things at home (like super-gluing a hat or mixing bleach into hair product to make someone’s locks green). “I’m of course talking about reading books.” He then asked the adults in the audience to raise their hands if they’ve read a book. This reviewer, sitting dead center in the front row, raised her hand and so he called on me and asked my name. Then he proceeded to taunt me by calling me a book worm. All in good jest of course and I was honored to be worked into a Broadway series production! He said goodbye to me when he left the stage. I thoroughly enjoyed the audience interaction and breaking of the fourth wall!

Oh, and Quinn? Have you checked your hair product for real? How is it getting that hat off your head? Psych!

Lavendar also breaks the fourth wall, addressing the audience to foreshadow putting a newt in the Trunchbull’s water, but refusing to tell us as she runs on and off stage, ultimately bursting out the truth. Much like many children’s capabilities of keeping secrets and sense of pride in the parts they play in their stories!

I also enjoyed Nigel’s reactions, capturing the severity of the moments.

Michael Graceffa was a caricature of sexy as Mrs. Wormwood’s dance partner Rudolpho, committed to the dance in his excessive expressions and exaggerated movements.

This “Matilda” is very different from the movie and it’s sensory elements like strobe lights at times could prove difficult to children or audience members who are sensitive to those features (including a laser Chokey). Otherwise Matilda has something for the adults and kids to enjoy with both a high-energy and deeply meaningful production.

“Matilda” runs through May 1. For more information on how to get tickets, visit https://bushnell.org/events/matilda.

 

 

 

 

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Praise the Gospel Music of Landmark Community Theatre’s Singing, Dancing Nuns

Praise the singing and dancing nuns rising to papal proportions in Landmark Community Theatre’s “Sister Act” at the Thomaston Opera House.

Sasha Brown preached the gospel of soulful music as the “fierce” and “wayward” Deloris Van Cartier, the role made famous by Whoopi Goldberg in the 1992 movie. The aspiring singer finds herself thrown into the most unlikely of places, a local Philadelphia convent, and trades in her right, fashionable and flashy clothes for a nun’s habit and robes to disguise herself as the police help her hide from her ex-lover, married mobster club owner Curtis (Daniel Fedrick), who she witnessed commit murder.

At first she butts heads with Mother Superior (Priscilla Squires) and makes waves at the church. But her expertise in music and Motown-esque pizzaz revives a seemingly tone-deaf choir in convent on the verge of shutting its doors and through hip and holy melodies puts the nunnery in the spotlight and turns things around. The only problem with that is that it not only prompts an invitation to perform for the pope, but it also draws the attention of Curtis and his minions.

Brown is most impressive with her riffs and powerful pipes. Becky Sawicki showed character arch with taking her meek, innocent and sometimes inaudible Sister Mary Robert to a joyful, bright and confident singer and person.Kathy Cook was bold in her voice and comic knack as one of the sisters secretly yearning for a little bit of rebellion.

Although intimidating, Fedrick, had a lovely voice, juxtaposed personality-wise by his goofball nephew TJ (Kyle Davis), whose singing was like silk, as was Moses Beckett’s as “Sweaty” Eddie. Beckett’s shy, sensitive, honest and nerdy Eddie blended the right touch of comedy and sincerity to elevate him into the unlikely yet adorable leading man, touching our hearts. Adorkable.

Even if you didn’t like the strict Mother Superior at first as a seeming nemesis to Deloris, you can’t help but love Squiers’ operatic voice, which is especially livened and featured when she has a change of heart about Deloris in the end and chooses to help the most unexpected ally and latch on to the soul train.

Major props to Steve Sorriero who stepped in to learn the role of Monsignor O’Hara days a couple days before opening night when needed after a casting complication. I didn’t even know that until after, so his short preparation time went unnoticed and he put forth a strong and endearing Monsignor.

Sometimes the music and mic volume overpowered the lyrics of any given singer so it was sometimes hard to hear what they were saying in the songs. However, I enjoyed the full and flavorful orchestra blasting cascading melodies and harmonies through the rafters, playing in a nook above the stage out of sight.

Deloris’s transformation of tradition church choral hymns into a pop-infused musical wave of energy drives lively dance numbers ornamented with shiny costume enhancements to the otherwise plain nun’s habits. Carol Koumbaros is responsible for making these nuns fashionable! Brown’s silver sparkly nun’s habit toward the end was very eye-catching!

The show had a robust ensemble, with many actors double cast in smaller parts and everybody added something to the performance.

Diwan Glass (Joey) and Daniel Beaudoin (Pablo) played Curtis’s other henchmen with a teddy bear layer. Susie Hackel played the spacey, well-intentioned Sister Mary Lazarus and Jane Coughlin was tough but kind as Sister Mary Theresa. Chrissy Flynn played Sister Mary Martin-Of-Tours. Stephanie Varanelli Miles played the welcoming Philly cheesesteak and beer-serving waitress, also backing Brown alongside Chelsea Pollard (Tina) a nightclub act in the beginning. Shelby Davis takes on roles as a taxi driver, altar boy, fantasy dancer and homeless person and Jakob Buckley was hilarious as the drag queen mistaken for Deloris, also playing a cop, altar boy, fantasy dancer and homeless person. Cat Gomez played a bar patron, hooker and nun and Lynn D’Ambrosi plays another bar patron but shines in expression and vocals in her role as one of the nuns and sparkles as a fantasy dancer.

Denise Howard, Miles, Patti Rice, Debbie Videtto, Patti Paganucci, Bev Delventhal-Sali, Rhiannon Carta, Laureen Monge, Pollard and Loretta Fedrick also play nuns.

Carta and Miles also play fantasy dancers and homeless people.

The mood on stage effervesced into the audience, with many bopping in their seats, singing along, laughing loudly or in one case, calling for another song!

One of the reasons this production of “Sister Act” was so special was because it was under the leadership of Director Marissa Follo Perry, who starred in the original Broadway cast of “Sister Act.” She is otherwise best known for her role as Tracy Turnblad on Broadway.

“Building ‘Sister Act’ on Broadway from the ground up was one of the highlights of my career as an actress. However, with each project I direct I fall more and more in love with being on the other side of the ‘fourth wall.’ Watching this cast come together to build THEIR version of ‘Sister Act’ has made my first experience here at Landmark truly unforgettable,” Perry said in her director’s note in the playbill.

Jeffrey Dunn produced the show, Dan Ringuette music directed, John Carter choreographed, Keith Winager designed the set, Alex Dunn did the lighting, and Jim Luurtsema and Gary Kingsbury were in charge of sound design.

The stage crew did a phenomenal job at maneuvering smooth set transitions between scenes.

To find out more information about future Landmark Community Theatre productions, visit http://www.landmarkcommunitytheatre.org.

 

 

 

Fabulous ‘Company’ at Little Theatre of Manchester

Company. Sometimes we love it, sometimes we want to be left alone.

In the case of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” at Little Theatre of Manchester, we follow Robert/Bobby’s (Randy Ronco) interactions with various forms of company at his surprise 35th birthday party, privately at friends’ homes, tense moments prior to a wedding, during accounts of romantic dalliances with three leading ladies and out enjoying nightlife with friends. While Bobby is in company with his friends, most of them married, they provoke him to think about whether he should get hitched at his age.

The format of the very lengthy musical isn’t for everyone, however I enjoyed it as a frequent theater-goer. It’s not your typical structure with a linear storyline or ornate set with major scene transitions. Instead, the actors present overlapping vignettes out of sequence in terms of time, flowing into one another despite jumping from story to story and place to place. If you’re not prepared to that, it could be difficult to follow. But if you’re not familiar to this format, your best hope for comprehension is to hone in on Bobby, the constant in all the vignettes, as much as his friends do. Pay attention to his experiences and reactions to different situations and try to put yourself in his shoes.

Also, the character names may be hard to remember with Bobby moving in and out of scenes with different couples, so focus on how they emote, the action in the dynamic between the characters and how those moments make you feel rather than trying to make sense of who’s who. If you stay open to the format, you’ll absorb the show much better. The actors and vivid characters maneuver you through maintaining intrigue despite the simple set, which mainly changes only in chair placements and beautiful lighting with different colors against a white platform.

It’s Sondheim, so if you’re familiar with his works like one of my favorites, “Into the Woods,” be prepared for highly wordy lyrics jammed into the music. That means it’s highly important for the actors to annunciate so you can understand them and the sound quality is also important. Sometimes it was hard to hear everything the actors were saying in the songs as a result, however, for the most part they articulated very well and emphasized diction with a lot of hard consonants and staccato rhythms to make the words pop. The opening was a good example of this when each character sang their nickname for Robert in overlapping monotone, giving a feel that Bobby is going through the motions in a mundane life and that his friends’ voices are almost white noise to his emotionally hollow, yet indifferent existence. Rhythm is almost, if not more, important than melody in Sondheim’s storytelling.

Ronco is charming, captivating and comfortable as Bobby, with a stunning voice. As our protagonist, he’s hard to read in terms of what he’s actually feeling or what he truly wants. Does he want to get married? Fall in love? Just be a lover? Or is his life alone okay? He is amiable with his friends, who all adore him. They seem to project their own desires or doubts onto him and push him toward finding someone special, or encourage him never to marry, and he goes with the flow taking in all their advice without necessarily reacting to it. Occasionally his wild, bachelor lifestyle flares up and he speaks in tempered defense of it, but often times he seems content with how things are and unfazed by what his friends are telling him. He gets insight into married life as he visits each of the couples and it isn’t always pretty. But he seems to find humor in it nonetheless, and while occasionally odd, he just kind of rolls with it.

The tenaciously addictive marriage of Sarah (Tracy Funke) and Harry (Shawn Procuniar) is the first vignette we see of Bobby visiting his married friends at home. Harry and Sarah hilariously fight off their vices, alcoholism and unhealthy food cravings, respectively, as they entertain Bobby and passive aggressively mask their tension and disagreements. As Sarah gives in to a plate full of brownies and Harry sneaks whisky he’s supposed to be serving to Bobby, we laugh because of the irony of their actions in contrast to how they represent themselves verbally with an initially outward strong sense of resolve in fighting their addictions. It’s real and those, while maybe extreme, are versions of what each of us may battle in our own lives. The funniest moment in the otherwise tragic depiction of a strained marriage is when Harry challenges Sarah to demonstrate some of the karate (that’s pronounced kah-rot-tay) she’s been learning, which becomes an all out violent yet humorous smack-down with near back-breaking floor pins and throws. Funke and Procuniar’s comedic timing and body language is impeccable and crucial in bringing levity to an otherwise tense and seemingly serious situation. Because of that we see that they love each other because of how they challenge each other.

The other most memorable vignette was on the wedding day of Bobby’s friends, Amy (Alysa Auriemma) and Paul (Rodney K.). Auriemma is another actress who has delivering comedy through fits and maniacal outbursts of anger and panic down to a science. It’s hard to read funny while playing serious. But Auriemma succeeds as the manic, anxious and self-destructive Amy through physical gusto, frantic pacing and extreme emotions and tone juxtaposed with Rodney K.’s calm, smiling, understanding and loving Paul on a day that is supposed to be happy. Bobby has a moment of confusion with Amy and epiphany about marriage in that scene. Amy does too, realizing she’s just afraid of marriage while Bobby is maybe afraid not to get married.

From there on, we see Bobby contemplate whether marriage could be or could have been a possibility with the women he does or doesn’t introduce his friends to — Marta (Cara Babich), April (Kate Brophy) and Kathy (Sandra W. Lee). Each woman brings something different to the table. Babich’s Marta is free-spirited and adventurous. Brophy’s flight attendant April is self-knowingly boring and hilariously drones on with dull, yet peculiarly metaphorical and slightly relatable stories. She portrays and innocently ditsy and awkward girl who does not read Bobby’s cues right in a steamy one-night-stand turned possible live-in girlfriend situation. Lee dances gracefully downstage during the lovemaking scene as the old flame who got away and who is seemingly still on Bobby’s mind in a dreamlike modern dance representation of an unobtainable relationship for Bobby.

Bobby’s visits with friends and loves and birthday celebrations don’t happen chronologically, so that can make it unclear whether his character is looking back or moving forward.

Another hilarious house visit is when Bobby gets high with his friends, David (James Galarneau) and Jenny (Michelle Ortiz-Saltmarsh). The two have gotten Jenny to smoke pot for the first timed. It’s a seemingly current habit for Bobby who is still living a wild bachelor lifestyle, but it’s something of the past for David. Their relationship to getting high kind of represents where they are in life. Jenny views it as an immature, wrong childish act that she seemingly enjoys being peer pressured into once, David basks in nostalgia yet knows it’s a part of his life he’s past and Bobby doesn’t understand why they don’t regularly have fun with it and why it isn’t adult. The drug takes them into a skewed reality punctuated with deep-down truth. Plus it’s pretty funny seeing each character’s take on being high. This reviewer was told it was a pretty realistic depiction. Galarneau’s smile-plastered face and spacey expression create spot-on comedy in his delivery. Is this high point a low point in Bobby’s life.

You also can’t help but laugh ironically when Jenna R. Levitt (Susan) and Sal Uccello (Peter) happily boast about their divorce as an otherwise seemingly strong couple or when Jane Cerosky’s knowing, matter-of-fact Joanne propositions Bobby at a nightclub behind her fun-loving husband, Larry’s (Randy Boyd) back.

The singing is overall strong, with some actors emphasizing character over tonality, and the cast is beautifully backed by a vocal choir and orchestra, both on an elevated, brilliantly lit platform up on stage.

Some of the vignettes seem to create an alternate reality for Bobby, who ultimately doesn’t show up for his own surprise birthday party although he does in the beginning, blowing out the candles, not telling his wish and tolerating cliche advice from his friend (like not to disclose his wish or it won’t come true). While we don’t really know what Bobby wants in a rollercoaster of vignettes and reflections, his friends blow out the candles for him, making the room dark in his absence. The cheerful notes in the orchestra connote that maybe he just wants to be alone after all.

Bring company to see “Company.” It’s an enjoyable night of Tony Award-winning, unconventional music that is raw life, whether you believe marriage is the happy ending or not!

The play is directed by Michael Forgetta, music directed by Kim Alczi and choreographed by Todd Santa Maria.

For more information on tickets, visit http://www.cheneyhall.org.

 

Hartford Stage Play Voices Delaney Sisters Having Their Say Over 100 Years From Jim Crow South to Contemporary New York

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Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Emmy Award-winning actress Olivia Cole and Broadway star Brenda Pressley keep the stories of Sarah Louse “Sadie” Delany and “Annie Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany alive, preserving over 100 years of their history in Emily Mann’s stage adaptation “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years” in its run at the Hartford Stage.

Cole plays the sweet, mild-mannered Sadie, 103, and Pressley portrays the bolder and spunky firecracker of a woman, Sadie’s younger sister, Bessie, 101. The sisters invite us into their New York home, talking to us and sharing pictures of their family as they prepare their father’s favorite dinner, an annual way they honor his memory on his birthday.

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Credit: T. Charles Erickson

They tell their tales of persevering through Jim Crow South and racial discrimination and becoming successful women through their education, careers and later years living in New York. Both go to Columbia and become rather successful — Sadie as a teacher and Bessie as a dentist. They even reference interactions with major historical figures like Booker T. Washington and Eleanor Roosevelt.

You may recognize Cole for her Emmy Award-winning role as Mathilda in 1977 miniseries “Roots.”

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Credit: T. Charles Erickson

She also starred alongside Pressley in Oprah Winfrey’s TV film “Brewster Place.” Both have Broadway credits, such as “Dreamgirls” and “Cats” for Pressley.

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Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Cole plays a very convincing 103 year old in her voice and slowed physicality. When Pressley walks across the room, she hunches her posture and staggers cautiously like an older woman, but her faster and more talking speed makes her appear younger than her character is supposed to be. Granted, neither of these actresses are actually 100, so playing mentally with it, 100-year-old women is not easy! But otherwise Pressley actually serves as a good contrast to Sadie because she exudes youth and a fighting spirit versus Sadie who goes with the flow and sometimes rebels passively by playing innocent.

For instance, Sadie talks about how she was expected to sit at the back of a shoe store during a Jim Crow South time. Instead of just going there when the storeowner implies it but doesn’t say it, she keeps asking where he wants her to sit like she doesn’t know what he means to the point where he tells her to sit wherever. So, of course she sits near the front store window.

Even though a three-act two-person play with no action requires a lot of your attention to stay interested, I was captivated with every word that came out of Sadie’s and Bessie’s mouths.  Cole and Pressley are charming as our hosts and have a way of storytelling that keeps you wanting to hear more, partially because they are so likable and entertaining. Their chemistry is strong and very sisterly. They play off of each other well with their reactions and you can tell when one doesn’t agree with what the other sister says by a mere expression or look. It’s like the audience is in on it, creating comical moments.

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Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Sadie and Bessie directly address the audience like we are physically in their home — a set that includes a living room with a lot of pictures, a kitchen where the actresses actually chop and mix ingredients like they are actually cooking, and a dining room at the forefront where they put food on the table but never sit, representing perhaps an archaic room symbolizing history and tradition. Each room is on a different level and you can even see a staircase and hallway leading deeper into the house. It feels like a real home and you are really inside sitting and talking with the Delany sisters. I wonder if it was written and staged that way to represent New York Times journalist Amy Hill Hearth spending time with them and interviewing them about their stories.

As the sisters reference pictures they are seemingly showing us personally while they talk, photographs are projected on an upper wall level so we can actually see what they are looking it, drawing us further into their story. A nice contrast of modern technology telling the old through the new.

The play, which Mann adapted from the book by the Delany sisters and Hearth, keeps with the language consistent with the experiences the sisters lived through as they faced prejudice because of the color of their skin. You could hear the gasps of a predominantly older, white audience as they heard the “n” word, examples of racism and the sisters’ perspectives about white folks. It was very powerful and as someone who has never felt the weight of remaining traces of racism, I could still feel the pangs of the challenges the sisters face because of the poignant stories they told and sympathize with them even though I can’t claim to know how they felt never having experienced it myself.

Bessie talks about the use of the term “black” to describe her skin color and she said she never understood that reference because her skin is not actually that hue. Black is black, she says. African-American is another descriptor you hear in attempt to be politically correct and she said she doesn’t identify with it either because she’s not from Africa and thinks of herself as American. She explains how she prefers the term negro,  though admits it’s not a term people feel comfortable with today. Women of color is another possibility. Again, as a white woman it was intriguing to me because I often wonder what is the best verbiage to avoid offending someone while being accurate. Or maybe it isn’t necessary to describe people’s race at all in stories, but in doing so you in a way neglect heritage and history in our melting pot of a country. It’s hard to say, but Bessie says it and much more in her own perspective without holding back.

A poignant story she tells is nearly being lynched because a drunken white man leered at her at the train station in the “colored” waiting room because she put her hair down and she talked back to defend herself. She said she was ready to die in that moment, but that she was saved when the train came and the crowd forming dispersed.

It marks perhaps one of the most tense interactions between the sisters in the show, provoking the otherwise calm and smiling Sadie to almost yell at Bessie for not being more cautious because those emotions about the thought of possibly having lost her sister that day still run deep.

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Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Sadie tells another story about when they were children and went to get a drink of water from the water fountain in the Jim Crow South. They notice signs with arrows at pointing at one of the fountains — one reads “white” and they other says “colored.” Even as children they get the hint, though they don’t understand how the fountains are any different. She laughs as she says Bessie snuck some water from the other fountain in rebellion because she wanted to taste the “white water.”

Another interesting story about their lineage touching on the social judgements about bloodline and bi-racial relationships, the Delany sisters describe their mother, born in Virginia, who looks white, but is proud of her heritage as an “issue-free Negro,” meaning her mother wasn’t a slave. She embraced that part of her perhaps the most. Their mother, the valedictorian of St. Augustine’s School, marries their father, Henry Beard Delany, born in Georgia and a house slave, despite societal prejudice at the time and people who also judged a white person who had a parent who was a slave. It’s relevant to the recent controversy about former NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal facing criticism for looking white but saying she identifies as black.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. After all, the story is what’s in the pages, which are in the inside of a book, or a person.

And you’ll want to hear every word of the Delany sisters stories. Bessie died at 104 and Sadie lived to be 109. Wow, to be over 100 years old!

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Credit: T. Charles Erickson

And speaking of 100 years old, one of the audience members, a regular Hartford Stage subscriber, was celebrating her 100th birthday!

Some of the older people in the audience were grumbling about not being able to hear the words well, but headsets are available to amplify the sound for the hard of hearing.

There were also some students in the audience, so this play would also be very educational for school audiences.

The original production of “Having Our Say” earned three Tony nominations in 1995. Jade King Carroll, who got to meet the Delany sisters and whose father wrote the music for the original and Broadway productions, directs this version.

In collaboration with Long Wharf Theatre, “Having Our Say” runs through April 24. More information on tickets is available at www.hartfordstage.org. Tickets run from $25 to $85.