Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A quilt in time

Fools stage American classic

A quilt in time

An all-female cast reinvigorates the lives of America's pioneering women. Photo by Kirsten Shultz

In this cosmopolitan valley with more art galleries than gas stations and where Porsche SUVs outnumber horses, it is all too easy to forget the heritage of the land we live on.

Company of Fools' production of "Quilters" will reintroduce to audiences the true struggles that our forefathers (or more importantly, mothers) undertook to make this part of the world habitable.

Described by musical director R.L Rowsey as "A joyous American musical," the title is a misnomer. While the tradition of quilting is integral to the play this is "so much not a docudrama or an infomercial about quilting! It really is about lives."

Written by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek, Newsweek described it as "... a tender and moving theatre work, a human patchwork rippling in the breeze of memory..."

Performed by nine actresses, the story derives largely from oral history as it paints a constantly moving group portrait of the women who recorded their settlement of the American frontier in the quilts they made. Through monologues, short scenes, music and dance, the play reveres the indomitable hearthside spirit of an era.

The story unfolds through the various quilted blocks of a final legacy quilt being created by the play's central character, Sarah. "Its conceit is this woman, this matriarch of a family, and her daughters. She is saying, 'I'm surely piecing my last quilt, I know my time is running out and it's my legacy quilt,'" explained the show's director John Glenn. "Its conceit is also, 'Let me share with you this legacy quilt, let me share with you my life. Let me share with you the stories that have been important to me. Let me share with you the important parts of my life so that I can continue in your hearts and in your minds as I go.' She's our thread that carries us through. She introduces us to the chapters that make up her beautiful full, rich life quilt."

The cast features a group of dynamic local actresses: Sharon Barto, Trinita Brunoehler, Sarah Heiden, Dani Milner, Jessica Rice and Marilyn Teitge. Guest artists Kelly Kennedy and Debra Wagoner (who starred as Patsy Kline in Fools' 2004 production "Always ... Patsy Kline") round out the cast from Richmond, Va.

"Over half of our cast is with us for the first time, which is exciting for us as we are a very company orientated theater company. The show deals with a woman's life from infancy through death and so all the different rites of passage of a woman's life are dealt with within the context of the show. As I cast it I wanted to try and represent a variety of ages." The actresses range in age from 15 to 56.

The experience has been an exciting one for the actresses, treading, as they are in the footsteps the foremothers of the West. "Even if you can't directly relate to the pioneering element we can certainly empathize or sympathize with the female element of the story and the struggles that these women went through," said Wagoner. "I'm completely baffled by the term the weaker sex, because they are extremely strong and sturdy women."

Like life the play carries you from intense moments of grief to high-spirited jubilation in the blink of an eye. "It's a very full evening," said Glenn. "There're a couple of the blocks that are pure comedy ... farcical at times and then these very poignant dramatic moments. It's like a quilt. It's very rich and varied in its texture, in its fabric, in its color, in its feel."

"The music reflects that, too," relayed Kennedy, who is performing for the first time in Hailey. "It's all original but you get intonations of old Western music and Appalachian and Irish. It does a wonderful job of taking you up and down."

Reinforcing the play's deep connection to Idaho, and the West's, heritage the quilting blocks the play is centered around were made for the production by the Desert Sage Quilter's Guild in Twin Falls.

"Twenty-nine ladies worked on the quilt blocks for us. The actual quilts are so integral to the show, as it is about the art of the hand and people and the investment of these people's time, that having real quilts and quilting blocks is really special," said Glenn.

The involvement of a real quilting guild excited the actresses, who took a field trip to meet the ladies. The connection helped to bring them a little closer to the characters they portray, along with the painfully realistic corsets they wear in the production.

"It is a neat way to reach out to the rest of the state," commented Heiden on the quilt, a valley resident for the past three years. "A neat way to bridge gaps between Blaine County and the rest of southern Idaho. To do something that represents not only ourselves but the heritage of this whole area, the Intermountain West and beyond, to get other folks involved so they can feel touched by it."

Ticket information

"Quilters" is presented by Company of Fools at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey from July 20 to August 7. Tickets are $25 for reserved seating and $18 for students and seniors. There is a Pay What You Can Preview on Wednesday, July 20 and each performance features ten tickets for $10—ten front row seats are sold for $10 each on each night at the box office starting one hour prior to the performance.

Performances begin at 7p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Sundays.

Call 578-9122 to purchase tickets or on-line through TicketWeb and at the Liberty Theatre Box Office one hour prior to curtain.

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