Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, January 2002

Quilters is a fascinating show based on real stories of 19th century pioneer women in the American west. Most of those women would have been quilters, and authors Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek uses quilting and quilt patterns as a way to organize these tales, some of which are quite harrowing.

As is my wont when going to see a show that purports to be about a subject on which I am not expert, I took an expert along with me. My friend Mary Beth is a professional quilter with New York Quilts and she assured me that all the quilt samplers and quilting references in this production were accurate and viable. So I can state without hesitation that if you are a quilter you will not exit the theatre screaming at any point.

So that leaves me with the theatrics, which I am well qualified to discuss. While there were a very few tiny glitches that made me remember that I was watching an amateur production, they were few and far between. My overall impression was one of being transported to another time and place by the moving stories of my foremothers and Damashek’s richly authentic music. The set and props created by director David I. L. Poole were very effective, right down to the dirt floor of the steeply raked stage (the first time I have been to a legitimate theatre where they had to hose down the set to settle the dust at intermission!).

A cast of eight women, ranging in age from a high school freshman (Natalie Varriale) to a dignified white-haired matron (Nan Sartin) play all of the roles, from cattle to humans, in a fresh and entertaining manner. While there were performers whose acting and vocal abilities were worthy of special note, few of the ensemble cast was easily identifiable from the program. Suffice it to say that there were some fine voices in the mix, and that Varriale held her own with a group that included some New York City professionals.

I think what I found particularly refreshing was to see a show by and about women. The harsh conditions of frontier life served to bring men and women on to a more equal footing. When life is about survival it is hard to care who does which chores. The harsh conditions also mean that these are stories about women as humans, concerned with very basic things like life and death and birth and pregnancy and sex and marriage and mothering – things that are common to all women in all ages and stations of life. Although these are stories of another time, they are easy for a modern audience to relate to.

This was my maiden voyage to the Ghent Playhouse to see a production by the Columbia Civic Players, and it was a great success. I am already planning to go back down in May to see their production of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins. From my home in Williamstown the one-hour drive was comparable to a trip to the Mac-Haydn. The playhouse looks impossibly tiny from the outside, but is comfortable and well equipped on the inside. I wish CCP well with their efforts to improve and update the building in the near future.

Quilters, performed by the Columbia Civic Players (518-392-6264), runs January 25 & 26 and February 1 & 2 at 8 p.m., and January 27 & February 3 at 2 p.m. at the Ghent Playhouse (518-392-6264), on Town Hall Road just off of Rt. 66 in Ghent, NY. Tickets are $15 for evening performances and $14 for matinees. The show runs two and a half hours with one intermission. Pioneer life was not easy and there are parts of the show that would be scary for small children. I would recommend the show for ages 12 and up.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2002

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