A play about quilting would not normally catch my attention, but Gee’s Bend by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder is about so much more than a quilt. A Metrostage musical production, Gee’s Bend tells the story of a family and the struggles they go through to find freedom and joy. The play has a modest setting with live music accompaniment by Greg Holloway. What sets this play apart, however, is the wonderful cast. Musically and dramatically talented, they carry what could be a mediocre musical into an emotionally turbulent look at the life of an African-American family during the civil rights movement.
… if you are at all a fan of gospel music, I highly recommend it.
The story takes place in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, an isolated farming community and former cotton plantation. It follows Sadie, an intelligent, creative girl. The play begins in her adolescence with a budding romance with future husband Macon played by Anthony Manough, their story continues with marriage and a house full of children. When Sadie learns about the civil rights movement and goes to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak in their small community it inspires her to become a part of the movement.
A struggle begins between her husband, who is more of a controlling than loving husband, and Sadie, who will not back down, even when he tries to drag her home. Sadie challenges her husband by drinking from a whites only fountain after getting her voting papers, against his direct instructions. The scenes intensity is palpable, the relationship between husband and wife is spectacular, actors Manough and White bring such a real emotional depth to their struggle that the audience gasped and muttered when Manough powerfully delivers the verbal blow (after the implied physical beating) “just ‘cause you have a vote out there doesn’t mean you have one in here.”
Sadie continues to defy him by going to the 1965 Selma Civil Rights march and returns home bloody and beaten, only to find he has locked her out of her own home. When she describes the horrors that occurred during the march, it is a reminder of how far we have come and from where, its impossible to imagine going back to that time of oppression.
What is apparent from the very beginning of the play is that main characters Nella, played by Margo Moorer and Sadie, have a wonderfully hilarious rapport. Nella’s comedic timing is spot on and had the audience laughing consistently. I appreciated the play’s structure of gospel songs in between scenes, and Roz White’s voice was magnificent. The energy of the play was high and fun and you could tell the ensemble works well together. Greg Holloways percussion was engaging and added that extra touch to the gospel songs. Songs “People today” and “If Anybody Asks You” stood out among the repertoire.
The choreography, by Thomas W. Jones, in some pieces made the space seem cramped instead of opening it up and engaging the audience more, especially in “This World Is A Mean World.” The set design by Betsy Muller was simplistic, wooden sliding frames served to change sets, but it worked with the smaller space for the most part.
The play dragged on a little at the end trying to tie all the ends up, when Sadie, Nella, and Sadie’s daughter, also played by Duyen Washington, go to the Whitney Museum of American Art to see their quilts displayed. Overall it was well worth a visit to Metrostage and if you are at all a fan of gospel music, I highly recommend it.
Running Time: one and a half hours.
Gee’s Bend plays through November 3rd, 2013 at Metrostage, 1201 North Royal St. in Alexandria, Virginia. For tickets Call the box office at (703) 548-9044 or purchase them online