Utah Valley Community College Theater opened "Quilters" Thursday night, continuing its growing tradition of presenting fresh (or at least not frequently produced) shows with a mix of veteran and new talent.
"Quilters" is a fairly recent creation by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek in an interesting style that combines readers' theater and musical. The pioneer stories told by the all-female cast transcend time, capturing the universal experiences of women.In this production, directed by Kim I. Brewster, Shauna Weight is cast as the matriarch, with seven other women playing multiple roles: Bonnie Pence, Tayva Patch, Sally Hopkinson, Kathleen Reed, Tia Brewster, Lori England and Janelle Raynes. Traci, Tara and Tawny Brewster play the little girls. Nine-year-old Tawny's performance is notable for the way she's ever attuned to what's going on onstage and seems a natural part of the action.
The music is fresh, clever and rhythmically challenging. The cast shows it off to good advantage most of the time, with particularly pleasant harmony on "The Lord Don't Rain Down Manna." Raynes has an outstanding soprano voice. Tia Brewster connects with the audience in both a humorous diatribe against "Sunbonnet Sue" and in her sensitive portrayal of an adopted girl seeking to know her birth parents.
Opening night was not without a few glitches. The sound was uneven, and speaking lines were sometimes hard to hear. The piano, although well played by musical director Cathy Johnston, too often overpowered the speaking and singing. The birth scene was unintentionally comical where it should have been tender.
And it appears that UVCC is continuing one tradition that should be scrapped before the next production: a too-low stage that makes viewing the show difficult from anywhere but the front row. The problem is exacerbated when actors sit or lie down on the stage; they virtually disappear before the audience's eyes. Let's hope the college can put a higher stage in the budget soon.
On the plus side, the lively, humorous "Freedom Quilt" scene and the sobering one where the women are mixing an abortion-causing concoction - to deal with the problem of too many babies too often - show the range of subjects and emotions in "Quilters" and the flexibility of the cast in doing justice to both.
Brian Jensen's synthesizer and Virginia Moore's percussion instruments add variety to the music. The muted colors of costumes by Dorothy Pickering blend well together and with the huge quilt that becomes a backdrop as pieces are added during the play.
Aside from the show itself, the audience is surrounded by beautiful, handmade quilts, part of the annual Utah Valley Quilters Guild Show. They help set the scene for an entertaining and provocative production.