If you're looking for traditional musical theater this weekend, head to Chatham for the Mac-Haydn production of "Damn Yankees." And, if you're looking for something a little different, something a little edgy, there are two other options much closer to home.
In Albany, Karen Christina Jones' troupe, the Callalloo Theatre, is putting on a production of "Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 years," while across the Hudson River and a few miles north, the Troy Foundry Theatre is offering its rendition of "La Ronde" at the historic Frear House.
"Having Our Say" is a conversation between two sisters, daughters of a former slave, who have both reached 100 years of age. It may be low on drama, but it's high on history and quite entertaining. The New York Times' Vincent Canby gave the Broadway production a great review in 1995, and the 1999 television movie with Ruby Dee and Diahann Carroll won a Peabody Award.
"La Ronde," written by Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler in 1897, was so scandalous back in its day that no one dared produce the play until 1920. So, if you're looking for a kind of theater you've never experienced before - a series of skits with sexual themes - then this production put on by David Girard's new troupe in Troy is something you won't want to miss.
Based on a true story and the book by the sisters and New York Times' reporter Amy Hill Hearth, "Having Our Say" is a look at the long history experienced by the Delany sisters. Their father, after becoming a free man, became the first black man to be elected bishop of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. The two sisters - Gwen Wright plays Bessie at 101 and Barbara Howard is Sadie at 103 - were groundbreakers in their own right; Bessie as a dentist and Sadie as an educator.
"The play is a fascinating look at what these two sisters have experienced in their long lives," said Wright. "They were born in the late 1800s, they lived through the Jim Crow laws, the Depression, the Civil Rights Movement, the world at war. They lived through all these generational changes. Most people might see one or two of them, but the Delanys experienced a whole string of them."
The Delanys were both born in North Carolina and migrated north to New York City. Coincidentally, that also describes Wright's early life.
"I can identify with them, very much so," said Wright, who lives in East Greenbush and is the executive director of the New York state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. "I was also born in North Carolina, part of a very large family, and migrated north. I'm very familiar with this story, and I have to say that I was very excited about getting this role. It's such an important story, and I was over the top when Barbara and I were both selected for the show."
Wright and Howard, an Albany teacher and one of the area's top vocalists, have joined forces before in a Jones-directed production, "Raisin in the Sun," in 2013. That was Wright's debut on the local stage scene.
"I've doing this for about five years, not very frequently, and I started because somebody told me I had stage presence," said Wright. "In my regular job I do a lot of public speaking before large and small crowds, and someone who was an actor told me, 'you know, you should try out for community theater.' So I played Mrs. Johnson, a small character in 'Raisin in the Sun' for Karen, and that's how I got started."
Bessie Delany passed away in 1995 at the age of 104, and Sadie Delany died in 1999 at 109. Emily Mann adapted the book into a play and directed the show for its limited run on Broadway. It earned three Tony Award nominations, including one for Best Play, and starred Mary Alice as Bessie and Gloria Fraser as Sadie.
"I saw the play about 30 years ago at the Booth Theatre on Broadway," said Jones, "and it's amazing that their tale has not lost its impact and relevance."
NEW APPROACH TO OLD PLAY
At the Frear House, a historic Victorian Brownstone on the campus of Russell Sage, many in the audience will experience a whole new way to enjoy theater.
"The audience comes in and travels from room to room and meets 10 individuals," said Girard, a Stillwater native who has drawn on his Temple University connections - he got his MFA in acting there - to lure Brenna Geffers from Philadelphia to direct the show. "You can stay with a scene, or an individual, or you can travel from room to room. It's pretty immersive and there's a sense of voyeurism to it. It was pretty scandalous when it came out, and yes, it's definitely not for a 12-year-old.
"But I would say it's more a PG-13 event than R-rated," added Girard. "You might feel like you're invading somebody's private space, but that's also what makes it interesting."
Along with a number of professional actors from Philadelphia and New York, included in the cast are Albany's John Romeo, Schenectady's Raya Malcolm and Russell Sage graduate Emily Curro, a native of nearby Blandford, Massachusetts.
"Our adaptation and Brenna takes on a whole new approach to this play," said Girard. "It's a far more inclusive representation of sexual orientation, and has a less restrictive view of gender roles."
At Mac-Haydn, Michael Brennan stars as Joe Hardy and Julie Galorenzo is Meg Boyd in "Damn Yankees."
The musical comedy is set in Washington, D.C. in the 1950s during a time when the New York Yankees dominated baseball. George Abbott and Douglas Wallop wrote the book and Richard Adler and Jerry Ross provided the music and lyrics.
The show is based on Wallop's novel, "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant." It won six Tony Award in 1956, including Best Musical.
'Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters First 100 Years'
WHERE: Callaloo Theater Company, New Covenant Christian Fellowship, 365 Clinton Ave., Albany
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through June 10; performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. June 3, and 6 p.m. June 10
HOW MUCH: $25
MORE INFO: (518) 720-2011, or email [email protected]
WHERE: Troy Foundry Theatre, Frear House, 113 Second St., Troy
WHEN: Opens Thursday and runs through June 9; performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday
HOW MUCH: $15, $10 for seniors, students and veterans
MORE INFO: www.troyfoundrytheatre.com
WHERE: Mac-Haydn Theatre, 1925 Route 203, Chatham
WHEN: 2 and 8 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Friday, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $39-$15
MORE INFO: www.machaydntheatre.org, (518) 392-9292