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“Handprints” captures family legacy of strong father

A woman and man sit next to each other on a bench onstage. There is a suitcase next to them.
Greta Oglesby and Dennis Spears star in "Handprints" at the History Theatre in St. Paul. (Photo courtesy of the History Theatre)

“Handprints,” written by Greta Oglesby, opens this weekend at the History Theater in Saint Paul and runs through February 18. The autobiographical play – inspired by her book “Mama 'n Nem: Handprints on My Life,” published in 2012 – is directed by Richard D. Thompson. The play stars Oglesby and Dennis Spears, includes music direction by composer Sanford Moore, and features both puppetry and some of Oglesby’s original songs.

Oglesby says with age, we often view our parents’ decisions with a newfound wisdom and understanding. She says for her, “Handprints” is about that new lens on her own childhood. Oglesby wrote “Handprints” to capture the experiences she shared with her siblings. She says the play was birthed out of quality family time, and the feeling that these moments were something to savor.

“During our family time, one of us would always be like ‘someone needs to write this down.’ And so I began writing it down,” said Oglesby. “But I don’t think I really processed how much my family actually impacted my life until I started this process. I literally had tears pouring out of my eyes as I wrote because it was so cathartic and emotional. Even on stage, there were moments that were so deep… I had to remind myself that I have a story to tell.” 

Greta Oglesby (Photo courtesy of the History Theatre)

Oglesby says the show explores our relationship to authority – in this case, the authoritarian figure of her father. She says she believes the play will inspire laughter amongst folks raised in Black households from her generation.

“My dad was very old school. He didn’t play. We used to get spanked, and at that time, that was just the norm. But in today’s age, he would be put in jail,” Ogsleby laughed. “But he raised really great kids, and we’re all very close, and we all love him very much.” 

She says that many with dependents to guide and protect will be able relate to her father’s strong parenting.

Ultimately, Oglesby says “Handprints” reveals that when we pay attention to the role others play in our early years, we realize that we are being shaped for the rest of our lives.


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