The Gee’s Bend quilts have become a national symbol of the struggle of the civil rights movement, the quilts themselves having appeared in museums and even on postage stamps, drawing attention to the lives and struggles of the African-American women who created them over the decades while singing spirituals and gospel music, reflecting their day-to-day struggles just trying to get by in a segregated South. The idea of telling the story of these women in stage form is an inspired one, but what is ultimately lacking in this Midwest premiere presented by Northlight Theatre despite a solid cast is, well, much of a story. What we get is a lot of talking about the quilts and lots of canned music that sometimes the cast sings along with, but virtually no scenes where the women are actually working on them nor where we as audience members get to see them, so their symbolic status is frustratingly unexplored. What we get instead is a series of isolated and superficial vignettes related to one family over the decades, with little changing to suggest how much time has passed if it weren’t for telegraphed lines telling us, such as, “I’m on my way to Selma to march.” The ladies go and hear Martin Luther King, but instead of getting any sense of how what he said may have affected or inspired them, they talk about what a “right handsome man” he is while they are listening to him. We get a brutal caricature of an abusive husband (though his death scene is the most credible moment in the show), a dutiful daughter, a gentle grandmother, a wise-cracking friend, blah-blah-blah, in short, an overlong after-school-special version of “The Color Purple” without the depth, insight or poetry. (Dennis Polkow)
At Northlight Theatre, 9501 N. Skokie, Skokie, (847)673-6300. This production is now closed.