A woman saves her children from a raging wildfire. A young girl struggles to keep her deathly ill sister alive during a blizzard. A bevy of women tussle over the heart of a young, eligible bachelor. These tales of adversity and intrigue are only a few of the stories dramatized in the big musical with a humble title, "Quilters."
While most shows do well to tell a single compelling story, Theatre IV's revival of "Quilters" presents more than a dozen stories from pioneer women of the mid-1800s. The trials and tribulations they endured while settling the West make for amusing, agonizing, heartfelt and certainly compelling theater. Director Steve Perigard and his cast of eight multi-talented actresses generally do a fine job of bringing these hearty and headstrong women to life. A few rough spots here and there shouldn't prevent theatergoers from making their own trek westward to the West End, that is to experience "Quilters."
The thread that ties these stories together is the character of Sarah McKendree Bonham, a prairie matriarch who depicts a lifetime of hard living in the patterns of her quilts. As played by Chris Bass Randolph, Sarah is tough and pragmatic on the outside, tender and reflective on the inside.
Randolph first brought this character to the stage in Theatre IV's 1986 production, and 13 years have only deepened the resonance of her performance. With a voice as rough-hewn as the timber that makes up Terrie Powers' rustic set, Randolph commands and instructs her daughters in the lore of quilting. But the result is less a sewing lesson and more a testament to American determination.
Like a true ensemble, the rest of the actresses in the cast move in and out of the spotlight easily, supporting each other without hogging center stage.
But a few standouts beg recognition. Margaret Reeder is hilarious as the tomboy who never liked quilting, only taking it up to torment her sister, the teacher's pet. The voices of Robyn O'Neill and Michelle Dideriksen blend in exquisite harmony guaranteed to give you chills during "The Windmill Song." And Jodie Smith Strickler is amazing in her delivery of three of the play's most affecting monologues, developing distinct and convincing characters for each.
"Quilters" stumbles a couple of times on its rocky road west. Musical director's Jose Simbulan's piano accompaniment was first-rate but tended to get washed out in the auditorium's unamplified acoustics. Slow pacing hampered several scenes. In particular, the beginning of the show needed to hurry along a bit. Also, after the climactic wildfire scene, Perigard let the show meander before wrapping the proceedings up.
But a few missteps don't diminish the power of this show. Though set years ago, it works because these women's stories are timeless. In "The Butterfly," a girl discovers that she is an orphan and learns about her real mother. The sad and sweet reminiscences of older women illuminate "A Land Where We'll Never Grow Old." You could have read these stories in yesterday's paper. But in the paper, they would have only been touching. As part of "Quilters," they are
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