This is not a post about the Beatles or Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Twenty years ago yesterday my lovely wife and I got married. As I’ve probably mentioned in this space a dozen or so times, my wife and I first met while we were both involved (she was onstage, I was backstage) in a production of “Quilters” at Theatre IV some 25 years ago. This year, history (and Swift Creek Mill’s season) conspired to allow us to revisit the show that brought us together so many moons ago. We brought our 4 kids along with us so they could see what we had been yammering on about for so long.
I believe the whole clan was pretty much entranced by the experience. In my memories of the songs and the stories, I forget sometimes what a great historical piece “Quilters” is and that the show is built upon a solid “girl power” backbone. I was glad for my girls to see that (though you never know how much that sinks in). One of the central metaphors in the show really hits home with me now that I’m older: basically, that life will throw many things at you but it’s how you put those things together that defines you. As the matriarch Sarah says (paraphrased): “The piecin’ is your business.”
The Mill’s production is truly top-notch with a cast of very talented actresses. I can’t offer a true review. I think I could if I had to, it just wouldn’t be easy. So ingrained is this show in my memory that I have to work really hard to put out of my mind the specific line readings and blocking and choices that were made in the production I saw and heard dozens and dozens of times. And last night wasn’t about work so I let those memories come forward to enrich and confuse the performance I was seeing. I was listening intently to Jackie Jones say her lines, but I couldn’t help hearing the echo of Chris Bass Randolph. Ms. Jones was sweet and warm and motherly in places where Ms. Randolph was gruff and stern and commanding. Both actresses were great in their own way, making the choices that worked best for them.
I had those kinds of feelings through the whole night: Audra Honaker’s sneaky schoolboy with a snake was very funny and made me think back to Dawn Westbrook’s similarly mischievous scamp. Emily Cole’s “I never married” monologue is a heartbreaker and she delivered it expertly in what might have been my favorite moment of the show. And it reminded me how Jody Strickler never failed to break my heart as well in the same scene. T’arah Craig’s “Green, Green, Green” was sweet and clear and made me remember how night after night I was entranced by a similarly lovely young actress named Holly singing that song.
So again, I can’t offer a true critical review because I spent the night just soaking it all in. I can say that Tom Width’s set was exceptional, rustic and utilitarian with cool little cutouts for the different quilt patterns. And Paul Deiss did a fine job as both musical director and in the key (and underappreciated) job of sound effects guy. Sometimes it is the subtle sounds that are essential in setting the atmosphere for this show.
The voices of this cast really come together beautifully, making a song like the already gorgeous “Never Grow Old” absolutely ache with tenderness and intensity. I could have listened to them sing that one song all night. It was great to have the opportunity to see two actresses I don’t remember seeing before: Brittany Simmons who has a knock-out voice and delivered an emotional punch early on in her “Little Babes That Sleep All Night” scene and Katy Burke who has a great comic flair – I loved her as Lavinia Hall.
As I mentioned above, Ms. Cole’s performance – not just in the “Never Grow Old” scene but throughout the show – may have been my favorite of the night. But I can’t wrap up without gushing a little about Ali Thibodeau who shows tremendous range in this show. From the flirtatious Pru to the caring “prairie nightingale” to the studly cowboy dreamed up during “Quiltin’ and Dreamin’” Ms. Thibodeau imbued each of her characterizations with a specific, organic energy that felt exactly right for each scene.
As my family and I were driving to the Mill last night, we caught sight of a beautiful rainbow and we watched it as it grew in intensity during the nearly half-hour trip down 95. As I rolled along with my great family heading out on what proved to be a very entertaining evening, it was a striking reminder to me of how lucky I am. A production of “Quilters” was a key event – perhaps the essential element – that set me on the path to where I am today. Last night I was reminded that, beyond being just a pivotal life experience for me, it’s a pretty darn good show.