A Timeless Tale of Sisterhood and Heartbreak

By Sydney Held

The Harlem Renaissance is known for its smooth jazz music and inspiring literature of a cultural revolution. I expected to feel overly immersed in the culture of this time period and was pleased instead to encounter a timeless story of the bonds of sisterhood and family loyalty in this production of The Old Settler. The production stayed true to its time period with costuming, scenery, music and the impeccable accents of the cast, but place this story in 2012 College Park and the story's message rings just as true.

Aged sisters Quilly and Elizabeth live in a small Harlem apartment with their new and much younger roommate, Husband. For those of you not familiar with the novel, his name is Husband, he is not in fact married to either of the sisters, or not at the beginning at least. Husband has come to New York to pursue a young woman, Lou Bessie, who has changed her name to a more modern and Northern, "Charmaine." But as the story progresses he develops feelings for Elizabeth, the "old settler." Elizabeth is pushing 40 and has never been married and to me, represents the ideals of the ways of the old South. Her conservative ways clash with Husband's original woman of interest, Lou Bessie, who is a younger and quite modern woman.

There were many times in this production I saw myself drawing connections between Lou Bessie representing both new and modern ideas, such as her shorter dress, curly hair, ideas on men and late nights out in New York. Whereas Elizabeth represented Southern, conservative values, which were evident in her dress and ideas about marriage and men. Maybe I was looking too much into these moments where I felt the new and old pushed back on one another and maybe it was not the intention of the director at all, but at many times I saw the old, conservative, rural ways of the South battling the young, modern, urban ways of the North through Elizabeth and Lou Bessie's attempts to win Husband and play the role of the dominant female. The clash of traditional versus contemporary ideas of love is still relevant today as we are constantly redefining what love is.

But still my favorite part of this performance was the relationship between the sisters. Although the production dealt with heavy topics of loneliness, forgiveness and heartbreak, the piece still made me laugh. The interactions between the sisters, especially the comedic ones, kept me so invested in their relationship. The way they joked with each other seemed so authentic and just how I would see two sisters joke today. I felt their connection to each other also came out in their singing. The two had beautiful voices that complemented each other quite well. The chemistry between these two sisters impressed upon the audience what I felt was the most important message of the play, that in the end family comes first. Whether it is 1943 Harlem or 2012 College Park, I think most of us could agree there is no bond quite as strong as family.