Reviewed by Dick Kerekes and originally published in EU JACKSONVILLE in 2002
As theatres are closed throughout the world because of the current pandemic crisis, the Dual Critics along with many others, are revisiting and republishing some of their previous work.
The musical “Quilters,” was staged at Players By the Sea in 2002 and took home the trophy for best play of the year. Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek used the book “Quilters: Women and Domestic Art” (first published in 1977), as the basis for the production, which dramatized the history of the American frontier in a most unique way.
The spoken words of the six women on stage were direct quotes from the diaries of women who settled in New Mexico and Texas during the latter part of the l9th century. The playwrights added songs between the stories.
The set at PBTS was filled with quilts and quilts and more quilts. After Director Scott Berry put out the word he needed quilts, quilt lovers throughout the area welcomed the opportunity to share their treasures, and turned to their chests and closets to provide them.
The main character is Sara Bonham (Gail Featheringill), a grandmother who knows she is approaching the end of her life and passes on her story in a “legacy” quilt. The remainder of the cast included Jill B. Herkel, Madaline Hionides, Ingrid McCawley, Gretta Russe and Deborah L. Tyre. They danced, sang, and portrayed eighty-seven characters which included both male and female roles.
Backing this talented six-pack of performers is THE BAND, with Bob Alder on keyboard, Maro Hionides playing violin, and Nancy Morton strumming at various times on a banjo or a guitar. Ms. Morton also provided some pre-show ballads while strolling through the theatre.
Jill Herkel designed the lights that created many different moods on this mostly bare stage except of course for a few props like, you guessed it…..quilts!
The sound included some chilling wind sounds that really made us experience the below-zero weather cast was illustrating on stage. Bacot Wright, who was the Assistant Director, ran both the lights and the sound.
Susan Harrell did the costume design which certainly carried us back to those pioneer times. Each of the women wore the same dress for the entire show, which was evocative of the era, as many women had limited wardrobes.
The stories focused on the hard times these women experienced, from courting to marriage, homemaking, child rearing, and eventually facing the death of their husbands. Effective birth control did not exist, and although not all pregnancies were welcomed, it was not uncommon for women to have ten to fifteen children.
Quilting was a necessity to provide the family with warm bedding, and it also set the stage for social contact as they exchanged scraps of material and helped each other with their quilts. And it was also one of the few creative outlets that was available for these women.
Director Scott Berry assembled an outstanding cast that worked wonderfully well as an ensemble. Deborah L. Tyre, a JU graduate in musical theatre, had a couple of solos that were quite moving. Ms. Tyre has a well-trained and beautiful voice. I was also impressed with Madaline Hionides’s vocal abilities in a song titled “Green, Green.” The songs all have Appalachian or Celtic overtones and interesting enough I was able to understand all the words.
The play was certainly thought-provoking and made me realize how far we have come from this distant past; air conditioning and central heating are luxuries we take for granted.
I took the time to study the many quilts on display on the stage and the surrounding walls. Each colorful square seemed to have a tale to tell and it was almost like going to a museum, standing before a painting, and imagining and connecting with the thoughts of the artist.
Players is located in Jacksonville Beach at l06 N. 6th Street. I highly recommend you see “Quilter,” a play that is stitched with art and love.