As a playwright I am often asked “Where do you get your ideas?” In the case of both “A Conversation with Hattie McDaniel” and “Hazel Speaks!” the answer is the same: Residents of Sequim — on separate occasions — asked me to create a platform to honor these two amazing women.
Over a cup of tea, former “Sequimite” Marie O’Neill was searching for a role of substance that would feature her talents. As a black woman appearing often at Olympic Theatre Arts, she had been most often cast as the maid in various productions. She offered a list of names she would be interested in portraying and when I heard the Academy Award-winning actress Hattie McDaniel uttered, I was already writing lines in my mind.
A year or so later, the Clallam County League of Women Voters wanted to honor outstanding women, and Hazel Wolf’s name was suggested. A one-time resident of Port Angeles, she went on to become a leading voice in various causes, a speaker in front of U.S. congressional committees and an avid ombudsman for the Audubon Society.
Even though Hattie and Hazel’s lives might have crossed paths given the decades they lived, they never met, and they won’t meet during the upcoming performances. But they will share the moment at Olympic Theatre Arts on March 9 and 10 (at 7:30 p.m.) and on the 11th (at 2 p.m.).
“Hazel Speaks!” is a unique compilation of quotes from the witty and engaging woman herself. Portrayed by four accomplished actors (Elizabeth Kelly, Cathy Whitaker Marshall, Mary-Alice Boulter, and Charlotte McElroy) Hazel Wolf’s passion for fairness, her ability to motivate people to action, and her love of nature comes to life.
“A Conversation with Hattie McDaniel” takes place in an imagined living room setting where Hattie entertains Kathy, a young woman who is struggling with life’s choices. During their conversation, Hattie sheds her persona as Mammy from “Gone with the Wind,” revealing a woman who met challenges throughout her life with courage and resilience. Jade Paris transforms into Hattie and shares the stage with Tia Stephens in the role of Kathy.
The irony of the coupling of these two plays is not lost while celebrating International Women’s Month. The theme this year is #PressforProgress and there’s little doubt that both Hattie McDaniel and Hazel Wolf would still be leading the way.
Charlotte McElroy has performed “Hazel Speaks! a number of times and reflects on this extraordinary woman.
“I like Hazel,” McElroy says. “She could be standing here right now and say exactly what’s happening today. She stood up for women, she stood up for healthcare, and she stood up for the underprivileged.”
The fact that Hazel is portrayed by four different women is not lost on Elizabeth Kelly.
“The casting reminds us that Hazel wasn’t just one ‘thing.’ She was active and advocated for many causes, often bringing her point home with a sense of humor,” Kelly says.
Jade Paris, sounding remarkably like Hattie McDaniel, shares her thoughts for the future.
“My hope for the future is that a month reserved for Women’s Rights will cease to exist,” Paris says. “I hope it will go without saying that women, regardless of race, are intelligent, ambitious, and capable. I hope we reach a point where these conversations no longer need to take place because the ignorance and hatred and indifferent attitudes that plague our society are but whispers of an unevolved past.
“Ultimately, my hope is that things that divide us will take a backseat and we will finally treat one another based on the content of one’s character.”
Hattie and Hazel … two women from different parts of the country who share the basic strengths of character. It is my hope, as the playwright, that those in attendance – women and men – will be inspired by their courage, determination, and sense of humor while making the world a better place.
Rebecca Redshaw, an author and playwright who worked for 25 years in the film industry in Los Angeles, is a former Sequim resident and columnist for the Sequim Gazette (“Sofa Cinema”).