KPBS AIRDATE: MAY 4, 2001
A quilt is made up of little pieces, stitched together to form a picture or pattern. And so it is with “Quilters,” the musical revue by Molly Newman and Barbara Dameshek. It’s a series of songs and vignettes, threaded together by 16 different quilt designs, each representing ages and stages in the lives of American Pioneer women. It’s a sweet, pleasant premise, focusing on those unsung heroines, the stalwart women who cooked and cleaned and birthed untold babies; those child brides who toughed it out across the country on rocky roads, in ghastly weather, to make a home and a fresh start in a new land. Theirs were the unheard voices, but as Newman and Dameshek would have it, these women expressed themselves in color if not sound — sewing their hearts and heartache into quilts, often in a group effort that was part communal celebration, part commiseration.
It sounds fascinating, and it is, for awhile, though it often sags and the patterns too often repeat. The mostly country/folk music is lively, a pastiche of plaintive ballads and spirited group numbers, frequently sung a capella. Scott Lacey’s musical direction is masterful, the onstage band is a delight, and the singing is outstanding. But we don’t really learn anything new, and isn’t that what the best of theater is all about, expanding your mind and making you think? Well, maybe not. Sometimes it’s just to entertain, and Lamb’s Players Theatre has found this little revue entertaining enough to bring it back several times.
This new production is more elaborate than ever, with Carrie Sefcik’s woody, rough-hewn set, Nathan Peirson’s sunny lighting, and an excellent ensemble, deftly directed by Robert Smyth, though Pamela Turner’s choreography dwells too dizzily on circling and spinning. After awhile, we fatigue and the women start to blur, though the quilt patterns remain unique. But then, they come together, in the piece de resistance of the evening: the joining of those separate segments into one colossal Quilt. This huge, 30 by 30 foot masterwork, designed by Aina O’Kane and costumer Jeanne Reith Waterman, swoops down from the fly-space, practically into the audience. It’s an 800-hour effort created by four modern women whose blood and tears undoubtedly are sewn into the fabric along with their forebears’ heart-rending narratives. When this glorious flag unfurls, it makes the over-long evening worthwhile.
“Quilters” is a patchwork production — bright, colorful sections alternating with drab spots, warm but not weighty, a light covering of hard times.
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.