Based on Sarah L. and A. Elizabeth Delany's memoir (which was co-written by Amy Hill Hearth), Emily Mann's play premiered in 1995 in Princeton, N.J., before moving to Broadway. In 1996, International City Theatre gave the show its local premiere at ICT's Long Beach City College venue. More spacious than ICT's previous home, the company's current downtown venue makes for an even better fit, what with Don Llewellyn's full realization of the sisters' cozily appointed Mount Vernon home.
Both sisters lived from the late-19th to the late-20th centuries. By spanning their entire lives, the play covers crucial phases in the battle for what one sister calls "the equality of the races." What makes Mann's script work as theatre is the connection its actors make with us. We're guests in the sisters' home, invited for afternoon tea and evening supper. During the course of our visit, we hear their life stories, filled with events routine and extraordinary. Under Shashin Desai's direction, nothing comes across with more force than the sisters' reverence for family — their ancestors, black and white; their parents; their eight younger brothers and sisters; and their many nieces and nephews — and for individual industry.
As the molasses to her sister's feisty style, Amentha Dymally's Sarah, known as Sadie, is sweet and agreeable, speaking in a singsong coo, a smile crossing her often wide-eyed face. Robin Braxton's Elizabeth, called Bessie, is sharp and angular, her words accompanied by scowls and judgmental headshakes. They hardly look 103 and 101 — or even 83 and 81 — but Dymally and Braxton achieve the kind of familiarity observable in close siblings. They're modestly dressed by Kim DeShazo, Bessie more elegantly so. Delany family photos lend a level of authenticity to this superb staging, which is in reality a visit with American history.
Presented by and at International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Apr. 27-May 20. (562) 436-4610. www.ictlongbeach.org.