“Quilters” A Gap Tooth Grin That’ll Steal Your Heart
Although Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek’s Quilters was critically unsung back in 1984, the company at Swift Creek Mill Theater brings theatrical stature to this musical’s brief, unfortunate history. Aware of the need for renewed artistic and commercial appeal, director Tom Width’s winsome adaptation has the hearty stamina to detach it from its beige beginnings.
The plot is the same as it was back in the 1980s: Pioneer matron Sarah McKendree Bonham (played with a matriarch’s formidability by Jacqueline Jones) and her six daughters weave a family quilt together to transmit their story to future generations in the show’s 16 loosely connected episodes that explore the concerns of womanhood on the American frontier.
It was non-stop chuckles for me as I watched this cohesive all-female cast pantomime “Rocky Road” to Jacqueline Jones’ vibrato “Who Will Count The Stitches.” This talented and sisterly ensemble sustains a dialogue that at times is lighthearted, playful, yet while at other times it is irreverently poignant and real. Width doesn’t shy away from accentuating the inner struggles these young women face, especially in regards to marriage, childbirth and, yes you heard me right, abortion concerns.
Audiences with a traditional taste for Little House on the Prairie may be disappointed. The darker issues are illuminated viscerally and may come off as too graphic for older crowds. But, it’s at these scenes that modern audiences will fault the script for not allowing Width to further develop these vignettes.
Katy Burke resists baptism in “Are You Washed In The Blood?” humorously. Ali Thibodeau always provides us with laughs as she prays to God her period will stop, while Brittany Simmons is so ashamed that she hasn’t received mother nature’s gift yet! Emily Cole’s performance is disquieting as she seeks out an abortion in the show’s darkest episode, “Secret Drawer.” T’Arah Craig (recent credit includes Cadence Theater Company’s Godspell) portrays these ladies’ tomboy egos and her gripping performances prick its needle at the script’s feminist undertones.
Tom Width proves not only to be a talented storyteller, but as set designer, he’s technically inclined, and somewhat of a xylophiliac. His all-wood set takes us back to the American West, but it’s not redneck tacky and its stability works throughout the multifaceted episodes. Joe Doran’s lighting is bar none the technical joy of this show – it adds suspense, humor, tragedy, and longing all through his twilight multi-colored palette. Paul Deiss’s evocative musical direction underscores the deep-seated emotions that compound this story’s dramatic momentum.
As a newcomer I didn’t know what to expect when going to Swift Creek Mill Theater, let alone to see a show about 6 white Protestant women and an old matron get their hands dirty in some quilts. But never devoid of surprise, this show is a “gap tooth grin that’ll steal your heart.”
“Quilters” runs through May 14, 2011 at Swift Creek Mill Theater. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.swiftcreekmill.com/
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
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