Performance Review: Gee’s Bend

Gee’s Bend by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder
Arden Theatre Company
Directed by Eleanor Holdridge
Staring Kes Khemnu, Edwina Findley, Kala Moses Baxter, Marjorie Johnson

10 words or less … Strong African-American women quilting through 20th-century American history.

Strengths …This production is as finely constructed as the quilts it represents.  Gee’s Bend tells the story of the women of an African-American family in Gee’s Bend, Alabama. Through the tribulations of family life and the politics of the American civil rights movement, the Pettway women stitch together quilts that protect, support, and bind together a true American family. The Arden Theatre’s emotion-filled production, directed artfully by Eleanor Holdridge, is sensitive and powerful. It’s a symphony of storytelling and gospel music, and Holdridge’s complex yet fluid staging is at times as grand as music and as coarse as family and political life can be. Her vision as a director literally brings the play into the audience, making this production something about us as Americans. Les Dickert’s lighting design is notably intricate as it wraps this story in shades, patterns, and colors as elaborate as those of an American quilt; remarkably, it not only lights the stage, it actually tells the story.

Weaknesses … It’s too short! The play runs 90 minutes, and boy does time fly. I wish I had invited a friend to come along with me because this production requires a follow-up glass of wine and a rich chat about its themes and our nation!

Verdict … Go and see this play with someone you want to share a good conversation about life with, because the production is so seamlessly constructed that its themes and emotions linger. The cast is worth the price of the ticket alone. They are a true ensemble, moving together as easily and as watchfully as family. Edwina Findley is the heart of this warm production. Her stunning portrayal of Sadie is both vulnerable and powerful. Kala Moses Baxter is wonderfully funny and cantankerously lovable. The voices of Findley, Baxter, Marjorie Johnson, and Kes Khemnu blend in simple harmonies that make you feel this is your story, no matter what your background. Gee’s Bend captures elements of the real lives of African-American women and the quilts they create. This production at the Arden coincides with an exhibit of some of these homemade quilts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art titled "Gee’s Bend, The Architecture of the Quilt," which runs through December 14th.   

Through December 7th at the Arden Theatre; tickets from $14 to $48.