Wednesday, March 15, 2023

'Fannie' tells of one woman's quest for voting rights

Greta Oglesby plays Fannie Lou Hamer. (Kevin Berne photo)


“Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, should be a must-see for students.

This one-woman play, written by Cheryl L. West and featuring Greta Oglesby, details Hamer’s brave efforts to secure voting rights for Black people in the 1960s.

She was 44, a Mississippi sharecropper with only a sixth grade education and the youngest of 20 children, when she attended a meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and became a tireless advocate for voting rights.

Her activism led to her and her husband being forced to leave their plantation home, thus losing their home, jobs and possessions. She received death threats. Nevertheless she persisted.

In one harrowing scene, she describes being arrested and thrown into a cell with five Black men who were ordered to beat her or risk severe punishment themselves.

Her story is interspersed with songs like “This Little Light of Mine” and “We Shall Not Be Moved” that have the audience singing and clapping along with her. She’s accompanied by a three-man band seated upstage. Music director is Morgan Stevenson.

Directed by Tim Bond, TheatreWorks artistic director, Oglesby’s performance is a tour-de-force of brilliant acting and singing.

Projections by Miko S. Simmons illustrate the events and people who also were devoted to the cause with photos from that time. Viewers who are old enough to remember that turbulent period in history will surely recognize them.

Andrea Bechert’s scenic design includes pro-voting rights signs adorning the theater’s walls. Costumes by Lydia Tanji, lighting by Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz and sound by Gregory Robinson add to the enjoyment.

The reason why this play is so important for students to see is that it has such relevance to events today, when some political leaders are trying to suppress voting rights, especially by people of color. TheatreWorks recognizes this and has scheduled a student matinee for 11 a.m. March 30.

Running about 70 minutes without intermission, “Fannie” will continue through April 2 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

For tickets and information, call (877) 662-8978 or visit