Ever since it opened at Arena Players last fall, director Randolph Smith's production of Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years has been having its say all over town.
"I don't think there's been anything like this [at Arena Players]. We did this in November of last year, and then we went out to Catonsville Community College in February, and we were at Artscape over the weekend, and we'll be at Cockpit in Court at Essex Community College on Aug. 1," Smith said.
Adapted by playwright Emily Mann from the 1993 memoir by Sarah ("Sadie") L. Delany and her sister, Elizabeth ("Bessie") Delany, together with writer Amy Hill Hearth, Having Our Say is a two-woman show that chronicles the lives of the centenarian Delany sisters from their North Carolina childhood, as the daughters of a former slave, through their years in Harlem and on into their second half-century in Mount Vernon, N.Y.
Smith feels there are several reasons for the show's continuing appeal. "It's true, it's history, and it's better than reading a history book," he says. "It's African-American history from slavery days right up to the present, their present - the early 1990s. We get to laugh and cry with these women through the racial prejudice and discrimination in the South and then moving up to the North and being a part of the Harlem Renaissance. They met all the people that we read about - James Weldon Johnson, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois; they entertained them at their house."
Arena's production, whose travels have made it one of the most successful in the community theater's history, stars Hilda V. Peacock as Sadie, who was the first African-American domestic science teacher in a New York City high school, and Corlis Hayes as Bessie, the second female African-American dentist licensed in New York.
The two actresses - Hayes is head of the theater department at Morgan State University, and Peacock is a local storyteller and theater student at Towson University - are both relatively new to Arena Players. One of the challenges in casting the show was finding actresses who could "transform themselves to play 100 years old," says Smith, whose day job is claims authorizer at Social Security. "I didn't want anyone too young. These women are mature enough to play 100-year-olds. They do things with their bodies and speech."
Mostly, however, Smith feels a good portion of the production's success is due to a quality the actresses share with their characters: "They're both good storytellers, and that's what makes the show."
Show times for Having Our Say in the Cabaret Theatre at Cockpit, on the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, 7201 Rossville Blvd., are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Aug. 10. Tickets are $13.
In addition, The Will Rogers Follies continues on the main stage at Cockpit at 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Aug. 7, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Aug. 10. Tickets are $15 and $17. For information about both shows, call 410-780-6369.