Among the Goodman’s artistic priorities is the examination of history—particularly events that, despite their impact on society, have not traditionally found a place in textbooks or in the popular consensus of what is considered historically important. For 25 years, Resident Director and Goodman Artistic Collective member Chuck Smith has brought African American history to the Goodman stage—from plays that deal with slavery and its reverberations, to the rise of Pullman Porters and the black middle class, to the Civil Rights Movement, among many other issues. Chuck’s work has provided our audiences with an unparalleled opportunity to explore the 19th and 20th centuries through the lens of the African American experience.
When Chuck told me he wanted to direct Having Our Say—a play based on interviews with the storied centenarian sisters, Sadie and Bessie Delany—I felt that this would fit perfectly within Chuck’s body of work and provide an experience for our audiences that is at once enriching and entertaining. While many plays deal with a particular moment in time, Having Our Say encapsulates more than a century of history. These remarkable women were born in 1889 and 1891, respectively, and their nearly-perfect memories stretched back to a time before Jim Crow laws were implemented in their hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina. After living and thriving through nearly the entire 20th century, the sisters were interviewed by journalist Amy Hill Hearth in 1991 for a New York Times feature story about their lives; Hearth then expanded the interviews to a book that Sadie and Bessie chose to title Having Our Say. This work was later adapted into a play by Emily Mann and produced at McCarter Theatre Center and on Broadway in 1995, while both sisters were still living. The sisters have since passed away, but Having Our Say keeps their memories and indomitable spirit alive.
Though the play serves as a stark reminder of our past, it also presents two women of indelible wit—the sisters’ sense of humor remained intact until their deaths—who serve as discerning, loving narrators of both their personal story and of our nation’s history. We are thrilled to present Chuck’s interpretation of this deeply moving and vital play.