Saturday, March 1, 2008

Gee's Bend at the Cleveland Playhouse

(I have really enjoyed being invited to Opening Nights at almost every Cleveland Play House Production for the last several seasons. I usually write up a review for someone, and the following is the one I wrote for Gee's Bend)

Theater, art, education, sewing, and history come together in Gee’s Bend, currently being presented on the Baxter Stage at the Cleveland Playhouse.
Elizabeth Gregory Wilder was commissioned in 2004 to write a play based on the lives of the women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and the quilts that they made. The women and their quilts made a splash in the art world after the quilts were put on display at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City in 2003. The play was first performed in 2007, and the Playhouse is currently presenting it until February 24.
Gee’s Bend is being presented in an intimate setting, with both the stage and the seating fitted onto the stage of one of the main theaters. It is small and simple, and the set is surrounded by no more than nine rows of seats on three sides.
Before you make it to your seat you first walk past displays in the main lobby telling the historic facts behind the play, including photos of the real town of Gee’s Bend, its residents, and, of course, the original quilts. You then travel through a temporary gallery showing off quilts that were made by several local quilting societies, including the African American Quilting Guild of Warrensville Heights and Saint Peter Church. They are simply and complex at the same time, and very beautiful.
The play creates fictional characters based on the original quilters, and revolves around the lives of two sisters from their teen years to old age. There lives intertwine with the events of their lives, both big and small, from picnics to marriages, to race conflicts to a visit to a near by town by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The small cast is very talented, especially Shanesia Davis (Nella) and Erika LaVonn (Sadie) as the sisters. Wendall B. Franklin plays Sadie’s husband, while Wandachristine opens the play as the sisters’ mother, and ends it as one of Sadie’s daughter. The play, which does not have an intermission, is ninety minutes of two and three characters scenes telling the story in chronological order from the 1960’s to the present.
It is an enjoyable evening, and if you plan to attend come an hour early to hear a presentation by one of the cast members, as well as having time to view the quilts in the gallery. It would be a great show to introduce live theater into the lives of the pre-teens and teens in your life.
The Playhouse still has several major productions coming in the next few months, including the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning Doubt from February 29 to March 23, and an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice from March 21 to April 13. Visit for more information.

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