THEATER REVIEW: “Quilters”

I’ve been complaining because I haven’t had a working fridge for two weeks. But after seeing “Quilters” at Lamb’s Players Theatre, I’ve gained new perspective.

“Quilters” – inspired by a Smithsonian project – is a piece of oral history and feminist theater from the 1980s. This musical is a valentine to the courage and dedication of those American pioneer women who had to deal with blizzards, droughts, twisters, fires and floods – and most of them also had 10-15 children to look after.

The plot is slight, but the heart is big as matriarch Sarah (Deborah Gilmour Smyth) makes her last quilt, which will be a legacy for her five daughters (Megan Carmitchel, Jessica Couto, Cynthia Gerber, Caitie Grady and Lucia Vecchio). Each square in the quilt memorializes a family event – childhood, school, courtship, marriage, children, death.

It must have been a daunting challenge for these women who followed their men to the wide-open prairies and even farther west. Sarah reports that her dad used to say, “It’s not the end of the world – but you can see it from here.”

Nor is this show a piece of cake, as the women play a variety of roles – occasionally even a man – all while singing complex harmonies (often a capella) and executing dance moves by Pamela Turner and Smyth.

The women talk of weather so cold the family had to huddle together under all the quilts they had. Of windmills, described by Sarah as “what held your life in this country.” Of the many Irish girls imported to marry pioneer men, and their influence on the language, food and quilting tradition.

And of course, school, and courtship – there’s a cute section in which all the girls seem to think they’re going to marry the prize eligible bachelor Jamie – and he seems to have given each that impression. And of death, and the hardship of having too many children (Sarah’s “Butterfly Song” is particularly poignant and lovely).

Kudos also to the fine five-member band and its conductor, G. Scott Lacy, and to Jeanne Barnes Reith for the period-appropriate costumes.

Carrie Sefcik’s wood-dominated set design, Nathan Peirson’s fine lighting and Patrick Duffy’s sound design contribute to the handsome production.

“Quilters” is a pleasant bit of history, short on plot and perhaps a little too long on book (by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek). The show runs about 2 hours, 20 minutes, but Damashek’s lovely music and these uniformly fine voices enliven it, as does the sprightly choreography.

The details

“Quilters” plays through April 27, 2014 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado.

Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; matinees Wednesday and Sunday at 2 pm and Saturday at 4 pm.

Tickets: (619) 437-6000 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.

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