As anyone who's played "The Oregon Trail" video game can tell you, the American West used to be a dangerous place. Disconnected from civilization and safety, the pioneers entered the wilderness to battle blizzards, disease, starvation, native people and death. And who can forget losing your oxen while fording the river?
"Quilters" deals with many of these trials, but focuses on the often overlooked role that women played in America's westward expansion. Penned by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek, this musical features an all-female cast of seven.
The show is a series of vignettes. While the script is at times saccharine, it's also refreshingly unflinching about the darker aspects of pioneer life. One scene features an ode to a corncob doll; another shows a young girl talking to her dead sister, who will be buried once the ice thaws.
Each of the women in the production plays a dozen or so characters. Jacqueline Jones portrays Sarah McKendree Bonham, the only named character on the program. "The Daughters" are played by Ali Thibodeau, Emily Cole, Katy Burke, T'Arah Craig Audra Honaker and Brittany Simmons. The ensemble does a lovely job of portraying these pioneer women. Their voices stack together nicely, but are sometimes weak on their own, such as in "The Windmill Song."
Director Tom Width's set gives the ladies a platform to work on and uses a cyclorama behind the actors to highlight Joe Doran's brooding lighting design. When the mother opts for a pennyroyal abortion, Doran's lighting elevates the action to chilling heights.
Paul Deiss' sound design and execution are superb, perfectly matching moments such as when cowhides are thrown onto the roof for warmth during a blizzard. Deiss' musical direction of the five-piece band adds depth to the tale. At the end of the trail, these separate patches of story fail to make a cohesive quilt, but Swift Creek has staged quite a good production. S
"Quilters" plays through May 14 at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 Jefferson Davis Highway. Tickets are $35. Call 748-5203 or visit swiftcreekmill.com for information.