By LEXIE BROEMMER
Local Q Writer
HANNIBAL, Mo. - When people ask Joe Anderson what makes Bluff City Theater special, he answers them by defining what the theater is not.
The Hannibal theater is not a community theater. Rather, it is an equity-professional theater, which means that he works with professional actors, directors and stage managers from across the country — the kind of talent that works in New York, Chicago, St. Louis and Los Angeles. This doesn’t mean, however, that he doesn’t work with local talent when he can.
Because he is able to hire this kind of talent, he is able to give to his audiences a high-caliber performance on the stage.
Bluff City Theater is also different from other theaters in that it does not do productions of readily accessible material. Instead, Anderson, the executive director of the theater, looks for thought-provoking, well-written and lesser-known plays — and that is exactly what he has lined up this season.
The theater’s 2017 season will focus on families — those people are born into, those people choose for themselves and those people are thrust into because of their circumstances.
The season opens this weekend with “Having Our Say,” a play based on the New York Times best-seller of the same name that tells the story of real-life sisters, Bessie and Sadie Delany. It’s equal parts a warm, family-friendly play and a history lesson.
“It really is of their life because they were born shortly after the Civil War,” Anderson said. “Their father had been born into slavery and actually rose to be the principal of a school in post-slave days. They grew up during the Jim Crow years. They joined the Great Migration north and ended up in Harlem in New York City. Over the course of their lives, they were involved in mountainous amounts of significant historic change in the United States. They lived through the Great Depression, two world wars and the civil rights era. They lived through the great jazz years of Harlem.”
Besides living through so much change in such a short period of time in history, the women made history in their own ways.
“One of the sisters became the first African American female teacher in the New York City public school system, and the other graduated as one of the first female dentists in the United States,” Anderson said.
The Delany sisters wrote the book “Having Our Say” when they were 101 and 103 years old, and in the play, the characters of the sisters will be that same age.
“The story is really just a telling of their history. The play itself is set in their house as they’re preparing dinner to celebrate their late father’s birthday, which they do every year,” Anderson said. “Over the course of preparing the dinner, they just share with the audience all of their stories and history.”
“Having Our Say” will run at the theater at 212 Broadway from Thursday through Saturday from Feb. 9 to Feb. 18. Shows will start at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Single tickets for the show cost $26 for adults and $15 for children 14 years old and younger.
More information is available online at bluffcitytheater.com or at 573-719-3226.
“C’est La Vie” - Feb. 23 to April 1
“C’est La Vie” is a light-hearted musical set in 1950s Paris that tells the story of two aging singers.
“It’s the story about how they discover that happiness only comes from being true to oneself,” Anderson said.
For the production of C’est La Vie, the theater will be converted to a 1950s nightclub, and some of the audience will even be sitting on the stage as part of the club. Anderson encourages audiences to dress up in their 1950s nightclub finery for the performance.
“The Boys in Autumn” - June 1 to June 10
“The Boys in Autumn,” Bernard Sabbath’s most well-known play, is an imagining of who Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn would’ve been as adults based on what is known about their childhood years.
“You’ll recall that in the books they were sworn blood bothers,” Anderson said. “It’s Tom coming back to Hannibal around 1920 and trying to look up his old friend Huck Finn.”
The play will be performed outdoors on the front porch of Finn’s cabin with the river in the background.
“Emily: The Musical” - June 29 to July 8
Based on Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Emily of New Moon” book series, this production will be the American premiere of the musical, which was originally commissioned for a festival in Canada.
“Emily was the later series of books that Montgomery wrote,” Anderson said. “They were more autobiographical in nature. Emily was more like her as a real person. This is a wonderful family musical with some absolutely brilliant music in it. ... It’s just a really warm and wonderful musical for families.”
“The Glass Menagerie” - July 20 to July 29
Anderson’s favorite play will be the last of the season. “The Glass Menagerie” was written by Tennessee Williams autobiographically and is set in St. Louis. Anderson described it as the quintessential play about dysfunctional families. Bluff City Theater is changing the play a little bit; a younger actress will play the mother and younger actors will play the brother and sister.
“If you have seen it, we’re going to be doing it a little bit differently than you’ve seen it in the past. I think audiences are going to appreciate it,” Anderson said. “If you haven’t seen it, if you’re going to see a Tennessee Williams play, that’s really the one you need to see.”
To see a full schedule with times and dates of the shows, go to bluffcitytheater.com. Single tickets as well as flex passes and 2017 season subscriptions can also be purchased on the theater’s site. Season subscriptions are available until Feb. 18.
PHOTO CAPTION: Bessie, left, and Sadie Delany in a photograph from the cover of their book "Having Our Say." | Brian Douglas