Sadie Delany, half of the pair of "colored" -- their term -- sisters portrayed in Emily Mann's popular, two-character bio-play, Having Our Say, died Jan. 25 while sleeping in her Mt. Vernon, NY, home, a family spokesperson said. She was 109.
Subtitled The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, the Broadway play, based on Amy Hill Hearth's best-selling book, showed the American 20th century through the brown eyes of the centenarian sisters Sarah (Sadie) and Dr. A. Elizabeth (Bessie) Delany.
Bessie Delany, the admittedly saltier sister of the two, a former dentist, died in 1995 at age 104. Sadie Delany, the more positive and optimistic sister, was a longtime teacher in the New York City school system.
Drawn from the book, the play premiered in February 1995 at the McCarter Theatre in New Jersey under playwright Mann's direction and moved to Broadway in April 1995 starring the McCarter cast, Mary Alice (as Bessie) and Gloria Foster (as Sadie). It was nominated for three Tony Awards: Play, Actress (Mary Alice) and Director (Mann).
Mann and Broadway producers Camille O. Cosby and Judith Rutherford James, on location in Charlotte, NC, for the filming of the play's TV movie version, issued a joint statement: "The best tribute we can pay to Miss Sadie Delany and Dr. Bessie Delany is to honor the memory of what they were. We are doing this through the making of their film, 'Having Our Say.'" The CBS picture, expected to air this spring, stars Ruby Dee as Bessie and Diahann Carroll as Sadie.
A national tour of Having Our Say starring Lizan Mitchell (Bessie) and Micki Grant (Sadie) played in 1996-97, under Mann's direction, and McCarter sent a production to the Market Theatre in South Africa in 1998. There was also a sitdown production starring Mitchell and Francis Foster at the Briar Street Theatre in Chicago in spring 1996.
It has since become a hot property -- both for its multicultural content and its affordable two-person cast -- in American regional theatres. According to the regional theatre organization, Theatre Communications Group, Having Our Say is one of the 10 most-produced scripts in its membership this season: There will be eight professional resident stagings around the country in 1998-99.
Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, RI, Kansas City, MO's Unicorn Theatre and other nonprofits have produced the play. A current production by Meadow Brook Theatre, the major LORT house in metropolitan Detroit, continues to Jan. 31. A Meadow Brook spokesman told Playbill On-Line some kind of memorial announcement will be made at the theatre Jan. 26 performance by director Debra L. Wicks, Meadow Brook's associate artistic director.
Audiences have embraced Having Our Say for its chatty, amiable, characterful portrayal of the sisters, who are seen on stage cooking a dinner in tribute to their late father, a former slave.
Sadie Delany was considered the sweeter sister, less confrontational. The sisters' lineage was of mixed race -- white, black, Native American -- but Sadie and Bessie reportedly preferred the word "colored" over "African-American" or "black." When Bessie says so in the play, the line routinely gets applause (from black crowds) for its frankness and sense of self-identity.
-- By Kenneth Jones.