Gee's Bend

by DICK KEREKES
Players by the Sea opened a two weekend run of Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder’s drama, Gee’sBend in the Grace Darling Studio Theatre. Final performance at the PBST is May 30th but there will be a special performance on June 16th at the Cummer Museum of Arts and Gardens that is open to the public and museum membership is not required.
This is the story of a quilting family in Gee’s Bend Alabama, and is based on true characters who lived during the sixty years and three generations that the play covers. The story starts in l939, when Sadie Pettway learned to quilt at her mother’s side as comfort from the harsh truths of despair, isolation, and racial insults.
In the 60s, a minister saw the artistic talents in these homemade quilts and commissioned a few of the women to make quilts for large department stores like Bloomingdales .
In 2002, a Houston and Atlanta museum organized “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend” and since then they have become world famous and appeared at museums all across the USA. A selection of the quilts is now at the Cummer and once you see the play, you will want to view these wonderful unique works of art for yourself. You can join the museum, or pay an admission fee, or take advantage of FREE TUESDAYS.
The cast for Gee’s Bend includes JU theatre major, Renee Freeman as Sadie with Sara Sanders in the dual role of Alice and Alice’s daughter, Asia. Christina May is Sadie’s non-quilting sister, Nella. Steve Anderson Jr. is Sadie’s husband, Macon Pettway. To single out each individual excellence would merely re-state the cast list. The actors have created endearing, full-bodied characters that bring this story so vividly to life. We leave understanding the turbulence of the times and in awe of how the creation of quilts from old rags and cloth changed lives forever. The descendants of the quilters, sharecroppers and slaves of this small Afro-American community still live in this area now known also as Boykin Alabama, and the poverty still exists there for the most part.
Lee Hamby is well known as a Director but till now Musical Theatre has been his first love and passion. Hamby has captured the essence of this story, by selecting an outstanding cast that thoroughly understands the material and the emotions involved. There is a great deal of humor in the play amid all the poverty evidenced by living in a house that has newspapers pasted on the wall to keep out the drafts. Mr. Hamby and Stage Manager Zeina Salame designed and created the set, with Matthew Imm adding the evocative lighting. Hamby created the costumes as well and they takes us back in time with wonderful period attire, climaxed with the final curtain when all the cast is dressed in white.
There are many scenes in the play, and songs recorded by the Gee’s Bend Quilters, is played as scene change music and it is quite haunting.
The playwright, Ms Wilder, was commissioned by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival to go to Gee’s Bend and write this play. It received rave reviews since it debuted in 2007. The American Theatre Critics Association(of which I am a member), presented her with the Osborn New Play Award for emerging playwrights in 2008 at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in 2008. After a short stint in California writing for TV, Elyzabeth is back in Alabama, working on new plays.
The studio theatre only has 80 seats so reservations are must. Don’t miss this inspiring work, and four excellent actors who really know what they are doing in demanding roles. Call 249-2089 for reservations and if you can’t make it by the 30th, see it at the Cummer on June 16th.

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april, 2022

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