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Gee's Bend
a Atlanta Premiere
CATEGORY :
by Elyzabeth Gregpry Wilder

COMPANY : Theatrical Outfit [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Balzer Theatre @ Herren's [WEBSITE]
ID# 2557

SHOWING : November 07, 2007 - December 02, 2007

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Quilts provide the motif and background of this work originally commissioned for the Alabama Shakespeare. Three generations of women struggle with povery, marriage, and history and find the quilts that have made their life have become the art of the modern world.


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REVIEWS

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Patches
by Dedalus
Thursday, November 29, 2007
4.5
Synergy is defined, most simply, as 2+2=5. In other words, sometimes a whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.

Quilts are that most synergistic of crafts. Pieces of rags, cast-offs, and thread-bare patches are sewn together, creating a quilt that is not only useful, warm, and beautiful, but, to outside, eyes, can be a work of art.

“Gee’s Bend,” by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder, is a collection of scenes spanning over sixty years. Each scene is simple, almost clichéd. Young girl lives with her sister and mother in poverty in the rural south. Girl marries too young too quickly too badly. Girl grows to womanhood, crossing paths with history. Woman outlives abusive husband. Woman grows to old age, stubbornly resisting the forces of time. Woman finds the castoffs of her life have become the art of strangers.

These are old and worn ideas we’ve seen many times before. “The Color Purple” moved to the Civil Rights era would follow this plot exactly. Southern women of color, basking in their religion, living their lives to a gospel soundtrack with a poverty-cruel bass line, find their strength and survive.

The saving grace of this production is the stirring performances we’ve come to expect from Theatrical Outfit. Michele McCullough Hazard and Shontelle Thrash are convincing as young girls, maturing women, and old survivors. Donna Biscoe is equally convincing as their mother and one of their daughters. Eric J. Little hits all the expected notes as the prideful man practicing his cruel frustrations on his wife, dismayed at her increasing independence, hidebound in his fading manhood, crushed by his times and his own smallness.

Little ironies abound. Ms. Thrash was saddled with a bad old-age wig that wouldn’t seem out-of-place in a circus. Yet, she found the exact right tone to convince me of her early-onset Alzheimer’s as well as her experience-tempered grumpiness. Ms. Hazard rebelled against her place in her husband’s house, but she became just as stubborn when her daughter wanted her to adapt to new realities. The sound design included a river that reminded me more of a grinding kitchen appliance, but the lighting design made the sound positively sing like a river. Mr. Little grew more cruel as his wife grew more independent, yet I felt a sympathy for him as his illness made him sink into a more cruel dependence.

It is Ms. Hazard who is the background of this production. It is her story, her family, her quilts that drive the plot. And she is able to warm the heart better than a lovingly-sewn quilt on a Northern Winter night. She is the one that elevates this play from a mere patchwork of familiar plot-points and clichéd vignettes into a believable tapestry of survival and success and humanity.

I will cherish the memory of being warmed by the ragged pieces of her life.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)
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