Take a trip back in time this weekend to Sis’s Tavern with Ally Theatre Company
By KRISSI HUMBARD — It’s Friday night and anybody who’s anybody knows the spot to be is Sis’s Tavern.
For one weekend only, Ally Theatre Company presents “Welcome to Sis’s,” a new play by Doug Robinson directed by Angelisa Gillyard. “Welcome to Sis’s” is the culmination of Ally Theatre Company’s contribution to the Mapping Racism Project, whose mission to reveal the hidden architecture of segregation in Prince George’s County is done in part through examining and exposing the use of restrictive deed covenants in the creation of new housing. (In the 1920s and 1930s, land and property use restrictions that were known as “restrictive deed covenants” became commonplace as tools for racial segregation, requiring that certain homes could only be sold to white buyers.)
Robinson was commissioned in January to create this new piece, and worked with the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation to learn the history of racial exclusion in Hyattsville and the surrounding communities of Brentwood and North Brentwood.
“The process of writing this play was a whirlwind experience, there was so much material to sift through,” Robinson said, in a press release from Joe’s Movement Emporium. “I’d read one page about the mill race and then become enraptured by a newspaper article about the early days of the arcade. Every bit of history I read was more alluring than the last. After going through pages upon pages of primary sources to find them, the dramatic gem that is Sis’s Tavern was a godsend.
“Sis’s gave me a starting point to write from. I had first-hand accounts of who would be there and from that I could imagine what they might talk about, fight about, and care about,” Robinson said. “I hope the audience is reminded that the past is ever present, and it is up to every individual person to carry on the lessons of the past into the future.”
The play takes place in historic Sis’s Tavern, which was once a grocery store, tavern, music hall, and barber shop that served the North Brentwood community for over 80 year. In the 1960s, it became known as Sis’s Tavern and often hosted musical acts, like Duke Ellington, after their sets at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. Sis, Margaret, Willie, and Sterling are all on hand to prep for a busy night, but when James doesn’t show on time, tensions begin to rise. Set in the 1940s, “Welcome to Sis’s” shines a light on one community’s ability to survive and thrive amidst the turbulent backdrop of racist housing codes and local dividing lines which played out across the country’s neighborhoods and still affect us today.
Ally Theatre Company recently announced their third season of productions.
“This season at Ally we are creating conversations at the intersection of borders and belonging,” says Ally Theatre Company’s Managing Director Tai Alexander, “exploring what happens when borders, be they physical, structural, psychological, or spiritual, are created in our lives and communities and how they affect our ability to survive and thrive because of and in spite of those barriers. ‘Welcome to Sis’s’ specifically examines the impact that racially motivated barriers, created by restrictive property deed covenants, had on the communities of Brentwood and North Brentwood, Maryland. It illuminates the voices of pillars of the North Brentwood community, like Sis Walls, who was a pioneer, a dreamer, a striver, and in many ways the heart and soul that kept the drumbeat of progress going while she kept the music pumping at her local tavern.”
“Welcome to Sis’s” will be performed Friday, May 3 at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 4 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 5 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $20 general admission, $17 for students and seniors, and can be purchased online. Joe’s Movement Emporium is located at 3309 Bunker Hill Road in Mt. Rainier, Md.