Chapel Hill, NC-based Deep Dish Theater Company will present Quilters, an exuberant and touching salute to the indomitable spirit of America’s pioneer women and their heretofore unsung contributions in knitting the nation together, April 28-May 21 at its black-box theater in University Mall. This musical tribute to our hearty foremothers who scratched out a hard living on the American frontier features music and lyrics by Barbara Damashek and a book by Damashek and Molly Newman based in part on the oral histories in the book The Quilters: Women And Domestic Art by Patricia Cooper and Norma Bradley Allen.
Originally created and performed by The Denver Center Theatre Company during its 1981-82 season, under the direction of Barbara Damashek, Quilters made its Broadway debut — also directed by Barbara Damashek — on Sept. 25, 1984 at the Jack Lawrence Theatre. Although the show only ran for 24 performances, before closing on Oct. 14, 1984, it received six 1985 Tony Award® nominations, including nominations for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Direction of a Musical, and Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Evalyn Baron and Lenka Peterson).
Deep Dish artistic director Paul Frellick, who worked for The Denver Center Theatre Company when Quilters debuted there, will direct the show. His production team includes choreographer Joy Javits, musical director Deborah Coclanis, set designer Kim deCoste, lighting designer Gene Gurlitz, costume designer Sue Sweezy, and props mistress Devra Thomas. Erma Kirkpatrick and other local quilters stitched the showpieces onstage.
The Deep Dish presentation of Quilters stars Sarah McKendrie Bonham as Olive McKrell, who works feverishly to finish the Legacy Quilt that she plans to pass down to her daughters (Margaret-Ellen Jeffreys, Laura Jenkins, Erica Nashan, Tracey Phillips, Donna Shannon, and Ann Marie Thomas). All seven actress will play multiple characters who tell unforgettable stories of life on the prairie while they sit and sew and chew the fat a little.
Dramatists Play Service, Inc. writes, “Ostensibly the story of a pioneer woman and her six daughters, Quilters blends a series of interrelated scenes into a rich mosaic which captures the sweep and beauty, the terror and joy, the harsh challenge and abiding rewards of frontier life. Illuminating stories contained in various patches or ‘blocks’ with music, dance and drama, the action depicts the lot of women on the frontier: girlhood, marriage, childbirth, spinsterhood, twisters, fire, illness and death. But, with this, there is also love, warmth, rich and lively humor and the moving spectacle of simple human dignity and steadfastness in the face of adversity. In the end, when the various patches are assembled into one glorious, brilliantly colorful quilt, the effect is both breathtaking and magical — and a theatrical masterstroke which will linger in the mind and memory long after the house lights have dimmed.”
In reviewing previous productions of Quilters, The Hollywood Reporter called the show “an unqualified success, as bright as the colors used in the quilts themselves”; and Newsweek Magazine saluted Quilters as “a tender and moving theatre work, a human patchwork rippling in the breeze of memory.”
Drama-Logue mused, “Who would have thought that quilts, quilting — quilters — had so much joy and pain, laughter and tears, so much life, beauty and drama in them?” And the New York Post declared, “Quilters is a show pieced together with love and stitched with pride … a thing of beauty, comfort and joy.”
Deep Dish Theater Company presents Quilters Thursday-Saturday, April 28-30, 5-7, 12-14, 19-21 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, May 1, 8, and 15, at 3 p.m.; and Wednesday, May 18, at 7:30 p.m. in the space between the Print Shop and Hungates — and across from Waldenbooks — at the Dillard’s end of University Mall, at the intersection of Estes Drive and U.S. 15-501, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. $14 ($10 students and $12 seniors aged 60 and above), except “Cheap Dish Night,” May 5th, when all tickets are $5. 919/968-1515. Note 1: There will be a “Meet the Designers” discussion following the show’s 3 p.m. May 1st performance. Note 2: Following the show’s May 8th performance, there will be a post-play discussion led by Virginia Dickie of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Occupational Science and including the actors and director. Note 3: Before the 8 p.m. May 19th performance, Dr. David Carr of the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science will lead a Deep Dish Book Club discussion of O Pioneers! by Willa Cather, starting at 7 p.m. in the Tyndall Galleries. (For more information on O Pioneers!, see http://www.deepdishtheater.org/O%20Pioneers.htm [inactive 7/05]. For more information about Willa Cather, see http://www.willacather.org/index.htm [inactive 6/05].) Deep Dish Theater Company: http://www.deepdishtheater.org/Quilters.html [inactive 7/05].