Two centenarians recall their lives in ‘Having Our Say’ at Creative Cauldron

Who doesn't love listening to older relatives telling stories about back in their day?

One of my favorite pastimes was listening to my Gma tell stories from when she was younger. Adventures she had, tragedies she endured. I loved listening to her form her words into stories from her armchair. And that comfortable, engaging vibe is exactly the feeling I had while watching Creative Cauldron’s production of Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years.

The play, by Emily Mann, was adapted from the book compiled by Amy Hill Hearth, containing the oral history of the Delaney sisters themselves. The centenarian siblings were born to a former slave in the 19th century in North Carolina. They recount their lives, touching on interracial marriage, sexism, racism, Jim Crow laws, and other civil rights matters. Their history is rich with historical milestones, family hardship, but also joy, and thriving careers.

Ayesis Clay and Lisa Hill Corley in ‘Having Our Say.’ Photo by William Gallagher Photo.

The play takes place in the Delaneys’ dining room. The audience is a guest who stopped by to hear their history. As they talk and interact with each other, the sisters busy themselves with preparing for a family dinner. They shine silver, snap beans, and peel potatoes. Director Bryanda Minix does an impressive job creating a show with fluid movement that feels natural and keeps the audience in the moment and energized despite the lack of action in the material.

Bessie Delany is played by Ayesis Clay and her sister, Sadie Delany, is played by Lisa Hill-Corley. With the help of costumes, hair, and makeup, Clay and Hill-Corley are able to look the 100+-year-olds perfectly, with matching physicality as the actors affect their posture, mannerisms, and movement. (Costume Designer, Margie Jervis; Makeup Designer, Robin Maline; Wig Designer, Ikonic Dimensions)

The show moves at a steady pace, as one would imagine a story with two elderly characters exchanging memories and drinking tea would go. But there is never a dull moment. The sisters have very different personalities and approaches to dealing with the adversities they encountered over the years. Bessie was more aggressive and wanted to fight back against oppressors, while Sadie was calm and patient in the face of ignorance. They were an excellent balance to each other.

My son attended with me and the first thing he said, as we walked to the car, was, “I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed that. You wouldn’t think that listening to two people just talk would be that interesting.” That might not sound like high praise, but coming from a 12-year-old kid in a society of video games, immediate gratification, and jaw-dropping special effects, I was extremely proud that he had absorbed the importance and gravity of the conversation. And not only heard the Delaney sisters’ story but benefited from the experience.

Who doesn’t love listening to older relatives telling stories about back in their day? It has forever been a beloved means of storytelling and passing down history through generations. And oral history is a poignant way to remember and honor the struggles of our brothers and sisters of color.

Ayesis Clay and Lisa Hill Corley in ‘Having Our Say.’ Photo by William Gallagher Photo.

It’s one thing to read about slavery, lynching, and segregation in a book. But it’s another to hear it from a living breathing soul — from someone who experienced the hate, and relives the memory of it, even when at a safe distance of decades and see how the story burns in their eyes and stiffens their limbs with the mere shadow of the pain. There are many beautiful, sad, and striking moments in the show, but watching Clay’s Bessie recount a time when she was nearly lynched was bone-chilling.

Creative Cauldron’s production of Having Our Say is a lovely experience, which inspires by educating, welcoming all people to honor this important piece of history. 

We can never undo all of the harm that has been done in our country. We can never make everyone who suffered whole. But we can continue to work for equal rights and fight against systemic racism. We can teach ourselves the true history, instead of the watered-down and white-washed versions we’ve been fed. And at the very least, we can sit and listen to the wise, old Delaney sister’s story, with love, admiration, and respect.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one 10-minute intermission.

Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years is playing October 7 – 31, 2021, at Creative Cauldron, at 410 South Maple Avenue Retail 116, Falls Church, Va. For tickets (all seats $35), call the box office at 703-436-9948 or go online. 

Cast Members: Bessie Delany, Ayesis Clay; Sadie Delany, Lisa Hill-Corley

Creative Team: Director, Bryanda Minix; Stage Manager, Nicholas J. Goodman; Scenic and Costume Designer, Margie Jervis; Lighting and Projection Designer, James Morrison; Makeup Designer, Robin Maline; Wig Designer, Ikonic Dimensions; Stage Manager, Nicholas J. Goodman; Projection and Lighting Designer, James Morrison; Producer, Laura Connors Hull

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