There are magic moments in live theater when the connection between the performers and the audience transcends mere acting and watching. There was such a moment in the Sunday matinee performance of "Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters First 100 Years" at the Lee Center on Jefferson Street last weekend.
Rhonda Galye Carney and Lolita-Marie were well into the second act of this charming two-character show. Each was playing one of the Delany sisters who, having been born the children of a former slave in the nineteenth century, lived past their hundredth birthdays. The gentle show is based on their joint memoir of century-long lives that saw both attend college and become respected professionals in New York City.
The audience was already under the spell of the two actresses who were doing a fine job of portraying the elderly but physically spry and intellectually sharp ladies. Indeed, the audience had bonded with the ladies when, earlier in the show, the two led the more than one hundred strong audience in a hymn only to have them spontaneously proceed to a second chorus.
However, the real magic came when Lolita-Marie blew a line, saying "civil war" instead of "civil rights movement" in a short recollection concerning Dr. Martin Luther King. Without breaking character, Carney chided her colleague for the error blaming her "advanced age" for the weakness in memory.
The audience loved it and the two actresses, both maintaining their
character, proceeded to ad lib a routine about old age and mental acuity that brought the audience into their confidence. The actresses and the audience were of one mind for a few minutes in that delightful connection that only live theater can deliver.
THE PLAY, directed with a straightforward simplicity that is a fine match for the material by Peggy Jones, covers the ladies youth in Georgia, schooling in North Carolina and college accomplishments in New York before relating their experiences as working women in Harlem.
One was a dentist who had many of the Harlem Renaissance figures for patients, while the other was, as she put it, "the first negro woman to teach domestic science in a white high school in New York." She got the job by failing to show up for the interview but simply reporting on the first day of school when it was too late for the school administration to find a replacement.
Had the Delany sisters been able to see this performance of the play based on their book, doubtless they would have enjoyed the way the two actresses created their own camaraderie and drew the audience into the moment with such gentle good humor.