My very first interaction with the cast and crew of Sisters! A Celebration of the Human Spirit, was at one of their rehearsals. To get the creative vibe going, director Rachel Finley had the all-female cast and crew stand in a circle and do a type of throw and catch.
One woman said or did something creative to another. Then, that woman mimicked the action to the first woman, turned, and did her own action to the woman on the opposite side. Unfortunately, you readers who see the play Sisters! will not have the pleasure of seeing such backstage hijinks. But, believe me when I tell you, it had me laughing a lot.
I mentioned that scenario because this exercise not only loosens up and enlivens the group, it’s also a testimony to how much camaraderie these women have together. Even during a rehearsal break, I could feel the energy and the warmth shared by everyone in the cast and crew.
This backstage buzz of excitement permeates the performances to a quality level.
“[Sisters!] is the story of real women who lived real lives and lived with real pain,” said Finley, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Finley is quiet and shy, but always has a smile on her face.
Her direction, however, is so seamless that had I not been looking at her from time to time, I wouldn’t have even known she was directing.
During the rehearsal, her intense gaze was on all the action, looking for perfection that is almost already there. For the most part, from what I have seen of their rehearsal, this cast has their performances down to second nature. I’m sure by curtain time, this performance will be perfect.
Sisters! is written by Jerry Ayers, based on a book titled, We Are Your Sisters by Jewish-American writer, journalist and historian Dorothy Sterling.
Sterling, who died Dec. 1, 2008, attended Wellesley College and graduated from Barnard College. She worked for many years as a journalist for Life magazine, and was one of more than 400 writers who protested the Vietnam War by not paying payroll taxes. Sterling, who is also the author of more than 30 non-fiction historical books geared toward children, wrote We Are Your Sisters in 1984.
Ayers had the hard task of weaving together the many stories and situations of African-American women in the 1800s. Sisters is a little hard to follow, but it is very hard to fathom how long it took Ayers to create something with so many characters and still spark an interest; which she did.
The major actresses are Crystal Renae (great baritone and a fine actress), Kenyatta Browne (her mega-watt smile makes her characters seem to shine through their pain), Gidget Friday (she may not look it, but she sounds like the women of the era she is portraying; an old soul), and Ebony Morrison (she’s one of the youngest in the play and performs as if she’s been acting since birth).
The other actresses, whom I wouldn’t dare call minor, are Talia Cebba, Nerlynn Etienne, Dian Harris, Jodi Johnson, Shela Marie, Ajahnae Mason, Jovanka Ravis and Stephanie Wong. These women comprise the backbone of the entire performance. Other actors of note are Joshua Robinson and Gail Willingham, who serves as narrator and executive producer of the show.
The show is both entertaining and gripping. I found myself trying very hard not to shed a tear during such scenes as the one where a woman has to watch her son being killed, and when the women tell their stories of being beaten just because they were black.
Slavery may be a thing of the past, but it is still our history. I’m glad there’s a play (and a book) that shows that slavery was just as hard for women, if not harder.
Sisters! is a play that everyone, especially young women, owes it to themselves to see. It’s a proud and bittersweet part of our tradition as women of color.
When you leave Sisters!, because I know you’re going to see it, make sure to have a long talk with your daughter, sister, niece or granddaughter about the importance of the play and how these women went through so much so that we could have the great lives we lead today.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Cast and crew of Sisters! A Celebration of the Human Spirit.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Sisters! A Celebration of the Human Spirit.
WHEN: Feb. 28 to March 22. Fridays and Saturdays 8 p.m., Sundays 3 p.m. Florida Humanities Council Talk-Back Session Feb. 27. Black Carpet Official Opening Night Feb. 28.
WHERE: African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, 6161 N.W. 22 Ave., Miami.
COST: $20 per person. Field trips are $5 per student. Groups of 10 or more get discounted ticket price of $10 per person.
CONTACT: 305-638-6771 or 305-637-1895 www.aapact.com or www.sistersproduction.blogspot.com