Quilters--Sixteen Blocks of Prairie Women's Lives Detective Story--The Busy Workings of the Precinct

Back row:  Monica Turner, Dawn Hamilton, Sheila Devitt, Carolyn Montellato
Middle row:  Olivia Harrison, Kele Gasparini, Sandi Weldon, Rachel Watts
Front Center: Linda Dunn
Photo by Wendell H. Wilson

Ross Valley Player's production of Quilters is pieced together with love and stitched with pride.  Here is a musical delight to capture the whole family.  Quilters is a musical and a book by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek.  The story is about the lives of American pioneer women based on the book, The Quilters--Women and Domestic Art, An Oral History written by Patricia Cooper and Norma Bradley Hall.  

Through a collection of different voices, Quilters is a patchwork of stories experienced by a family of pioneer women. These women share their life experiences, both the dramatic and everyday, as they create quilt blocks to record their tales.  The dialogue of the play is interspersed with song to heighten the effect.  "Coming from a long line of quilters, I was drawn to the play as a means to pay homage to the pioneer women of our country who told their stories through their art--quilts," says Director Linda Dunn.  

In the American West, a pioneer woman Sarah (Sandi V. Weldon) and six women who are called her daughters, face frontier life. Rather than a straight forward story line, this musical is presented as a series of short tales mated with musical numbers, each presenting an aspect of frontier life or womanhood.  The patches or blocks show girlhood, marriage, childbirth, spinsterhood, twisters, fires, illness and death. The patches are ultimately put together to form one dramatic tableaux.  

Sandi V. Weldon leads the ensemble as Sarah, the matriarch of a family that includes seven daughters played by Sheila M. Devitt, Kele Gasparini, Dawn Marie Hamilton, Olivia Harrison, Carolyn Montellato, Monica Turner and Rachel Watts.  Many of the cast of daughters fall easily into place in different roles as children, men of the prairie, wives, daughters or teachers.  

This new production at Ross Valley Players is more elaborate than ever with Bruce Lackovic's woody, rough-hewn set, Les Lizama's spectacular lighting, Michael A. Berg's authentic costuming, Linda Dunn's deft direction and Gloria Woods' musical direction which includes some amazing choreography.  

At times the prairie accent was a little hard to understand. However, with this production there is also love, warmly rich and lively humor and the moving spectacle of simple human dignity and steadfastness in the face of adversity.  

Quilters runs through Sunday, April 17 at Ross Valley Players, the Barn Theatre, Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross (cross street Lagunitas).  Performances are held Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets, call 415-456-9555 or go online at www.rossvalleyplayers.com.

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players will be Rabbit Hole, a drama by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by Mary Ann Rodgers, May 13-June 12, 2011.

Flora Lynn Isaacson
Detective Story by Sidney Kingsley and directed by James Dunn now playing at the College of Marin is a winner.  The entire action of the play takes place in the detective squad room of a New York police precinct on a single day in August, 1949.  It is a large production (26 actors in the cast) and is perfect for the College of Marin to give all of these players a chance to perform as every manner of petty criminal, tough cop, and eccentric street character is represented in this gritty show.

The issue of intolerance and its consequences is the focus of Kingsley's Detective Story.  The leading character, Detective McLeod (Eric Burke) has a problem which is at the heart of the play.  He is uncompromising and sees things in black and white. There is only evil and good, criminal and honest citizen. When his dearly beloved wife, Mary (Jennifer Reimer) is found to have a connection with a criminal, McLeod's reaction rocks the boat.  Eric Burke is perfectly cast as McLeod. He has just the right amount of energy, conviction and self-righteousness.  

As always, James Dunn brings together a tip top ensemble from top to bottom.  Other standouts include Jeffrey Taylor as Detective Brody, McLeod's good natured friend who is more concerned with justice than punishment.  As McLeod's wife, Jennifer Reimer offers one of the most touching scenes when having to confront her husband about her past.  Putting a little comedy into this serious story are Kaya May as a nosy first-time shoplifter who enjoys her first day in the police department by doing some serious people watching and trying to pick up guys. Especially memorable performances are given by Robert Garcia, as reporter Joe Feinson, Rose Pearson as Susan Carmichael, Ian Swift, as Lt. Monoghan and elderly paranoiac Anne Ripley who tries to get her bothersome neighbors arrested for all means of illegal activities--activities she has seen them do by using her "electronic vision" that allows her to see through walls.  Also wonderful are Alan Weber as Detective Dakis who books first time shoplifter Kaya May and Wood Lockhart as Endicott Sims, a persistent lawyer.  All of the players did a great job with their New York accents and Ian Swift has a wonderful Irish brogue.  

Patricia Polen's carefully chosen period costumes and Ronald E. Krempetz's well designed set down to the minutest detail of the many roomed police station add the finishing touches to another magnificent production at the College of Marin.  Director James Dunn continues to impress as he did with his production of Hamlet last year at the College of Marin, past Mountain Play musicals and his many productions at Ross Valley Players.  

Detective Story continues at College of Marin through March 20, 2011.  Performances are held at 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays.  For tickets, visit www.marin.edu/departments/performingarts/drama or call 415-485-9385.

Flora Lynn Isaacson