Pioneers piece together a life
It’s not that they haven’t been paying attention to the music, gloriously sung, or to the themes of the show: The hardships of prairie life, the hard work of women, the strength and character and creativity shown by these long-suffering folk.
It’s just that “Quilters,” which Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek based on real experiences of pioneer women, has a tactile element most plays don’t possess. Seeing the quilts on stage is not enough; you’ll want to examine the stitches and the fabrics and the craftsmanship for yourself.
Luckily, photos of the quilts in the show and several actual quilts are on display in the loft, just up the stairs from the lobby. You can scrutinize them to your heart’s content — for 15 minutes, anyway — and even enter raffles in hopes of taking home a comforting souvenir, as well as a program.
Kudos to the quilters — Bobbie Beberia, Janel Denton, Peggy Gelbrich, Marlene Thomas, Lottie Smith, Donna Anessi, Diane Buckley, Helen Geisberg, Shelly Sanderlin, Jeannie Kleinschmit, Janette Allen, Phoebe Flynn, Wendy Abdelnour, Kristie Buxton, Shelly Gowell and Julie Bacon.
In addition to visually enriching the show, the quilts serve as metaphors for life on the prairie as the story of Sarah (Ginger Williams) and her daughters (Alice Darnton, Jamie Coff, Debbie Lockwood, Elizabeth Pullen, Stephanie Belt-Verhoeff and Jenny Root-Ravia) plays out. Director Carolyn McCloskey also cast a group of girls (Kendra Butler, Lydia Dolence, Samantha Prewitt, Mackayla Norwood, Emily Rose Evans and Elizabeth Evans) to play the daughters as children and assorted other youngsters.
They sing and dance and do things unexpected (the group becomes a covered wagon at one point; later, Lockwood makes a great cowpoke) though the stories of growing up, chasing and catching husbands, celebrating their first child then wearily giving birth again and again. There are happy times and sad ones, and some terrible disasters.
But through it all, they have their quilts, which act as a steadying force, a way to express themselves and, quite literally, a haven in the storm. As Sarah says, they meet the challenges and “piece together what life gives you and make it beautiful.”