Living well, the saying goes, is the best revenge. But living long and well is definitely better.
Take it from the Delany sisters, 103-year-old sweet Sadie (Micki Grant) and feisty 101-year-old Dr. Bessie (Lizan Mitchell), who have outlived everyone who tried to keep them down in "Having Our Say," at the La Jolla Playhouse's Mandell Weiss Forum through Oct. 19.
Emily Mann adapted her 1995 Broadway play from the best-selling double autobiography, "Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years." It's a remarkable story about two African American women whose father, born into slavery, became America's first elected black Episcopal bishop.
Because of their father and their mixed-race mother--the valedictorian in their father's college class--the women led a life of privilege. Not of wealth, but of education and culture, of dignity and faith.
Still, as African Americans (an appellation they eschew; they prefer Negro, colored, American), they couldn't escape Jim Crow. But while Bessie once almost got herself lynched by standing up to a drunken white man, their inner resources help them break through the color line--Sadie as the first black home economics high school teacher in the New York City public schools, Bessie as the second black female dentist in the state of New York.
The show is by nature talky. This is a memoir, after all, and the women are telling, not reliving, their memories as they welcome an unseen guest into their humble Mount Vernon home (smartly designed by Robert Brill).
But under Loretta Greco's graceful direction, Grant and Mitchell show us a Sadie and Bessie whom we take pleasure in knowing.
Grant's Sadie talks and moves with the genteel poise of a woman who knows how to hide her emotions and get the job done without confrontation. In contrast, Mitchell's Bessie has revealing eyes that tell of mischief and passions barely under control. She knows how to get a laugh--denying something to Sadie but miming a confession to the audience once her sister's back is turned. And when she loses her temper, as she does when remembering events of 90 years ago, it comes as an entirely spontaneous and irrepressible outburst.
Other than the character contrasts, the only source of dramatic "tension" in this three-act play is the preparation of a fabulous birthday meal for their father. The sisters remember their deceased father on his birthday every year by preparing his favorite foods.
It's a delicious meal, a fitting accompaniment for such a tasty slice of theater.
* "Having Our Say," La Jolla Playhouse, Mandell Weiss Forum, UC San Diego campus, La Jolla. 8 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday; 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Ends Oct. 19 after 2 p.m. performance. $21-$39. (619) 550-1010. Running time: 2 hours, 22 minutes.