The play stars Ruby Hinds, Jolie Oliver, John Roderick Davidson and Crystal Garrett in a bittersweet comedy of two women who must test the bonds of sisterhood during the Harlem Renaissance of 1943. This funny and yet moving story centers around 55 year old Elizabeth (Ruby Hinds) and her younger sister, Quilly (Jolie Oliver), as middle aged sisters who share a Harlem apartment during WWII. When a strapping young man, Husband (John Roderick Davidson), fresh from South Carolina's backwoods, who has come to New York to search for his former love, Lou Bessie (Crystal Garnett), takes a room as a boarder, a romance blooms between him and the lonely Elizabeth, causing old hurts and new tensions to rise between the sisters.
While the story was slow in the first act, the tension built as the play continued ending with a rousing finale. Singing of Ruby Hinds and Jolie Oliver enhanced the telling.
As the first scene begins, Elizabeth and her sister, Quilly, are returning from a funeral. The two immediately make sharply contrasting impressions on us with their first appearances. Elizabeth is dressed entirely in black, while her sister sports a “white dress with a gold sash and some medals affixed to her chest. On her head is a white fez, with a gold emblem of a scepter on the front and a gold tassel.”
These differences in appearance point to underlying differences in outlook and temperament that persist and develop throughout the play. No sooner do they come through the door than they begin to bicker—more or less their constant mode of conversation. They squabble about everything from household chores to proper deportment at a funeral. But the most serious source of friction between them is the newly arrived roomer in the apartment, Husband Witherspoon, a young man of 29.
When Husband, having lost track of Lou Bessie, invites Elizabeth out to dine with him, they return to the apartment to find Lou Bessie there and berating him for hanging out with an 'old settler."
The term 'old settler' refers to a woman pushing forty who isn't married and doesn’t have any prospects. Naturally this upsets Elizabeth who orders the young girl out.
The superb acting was enhanced by Thomas Brown's set design, Carol Doehring's lighting, Grace Goodson-Witcher's costumes, Rob Corn's sound, and aided by Harold Erkins as assistant director and Ari Radousky as stage manager.
Originally performed at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Conference in Waterford, Connecticut (1995,) it was then seen by the Russian Theatre Union (1996) and then Moscow (1997). Recognized for many awards, the play was adapted for TV and presented by PBS, staring Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad.
The current production was first workshopped at the Beverly Hills Playhouse in 2009 and moved people so much that Jolie Oliver was convinced to bring the story back to the stage. With the help of producer, Alan Naggar, she conducted a kickstarter campaign to fund the play.
Tickets cost $32 and the shows occur on Friday and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. The Pico Playhouse is located at 10508 W Pico, Los Angeles, 90064. For reservations call 323 960 7712.