Honesty, they say, is the best policy, and honest theatre helps us to understand the lives of others. Swift Creek Mill Theatre’s musical presentation of “Quilters” honesty portrays the lives, experiences and emotions of seven pioneer women. Instead of a romanticized and sanitized version of frontier life out on the prairie, we come to share and understand the hardships, heartbreak and tragedies they endure. But there are also happy times as the women gather round the quilting frame and gather strength from their shared friendships, memories and traditions, which fly as fast as their needles.
These women are proud of their quilts. Out on the frontier, the quilts are lifesavers in the bleak winter, a media of barter and exchange in times of want, and a record of their lives, their brief girlhoods, courtships, marriages, too many childbirths and deaths. The quilts are their tapestries, their folk history, treasured and handed down from generation to generation. The images, 11 stitches to the inch on the quilt faithfully express their frontier values of simplicity, endurance, tradition.
The play begins as the family travels west in a covered wagon in search of the promised land and a better life for their families. A cold bleak prairie is the reality that they find, and they must make the best of it. As the women tell their stories, the scenes flow and blend into one another. Jackie Jones plays the matriarch of the family; always a strong performer, she is a joy to watch as she gets in and out of her numerous characters. Her six “daughters,” Ali Thibodeau, Emily Cole, Katie Burke, T’Arah Craig, Audra Honaker and Brittany Simmons are convincing as they grow from childhood. All are multi-talented – acting, singing and dancing as they play their parts beautifully.
“Quilters” is skillfully directed and choreographed by Tom Width. Music true to the period enhances the mood with tunefully sung solos and wonderful choral harmonies directed by Paul Deiss and played by talented unseen musicians. “Quilters” opens with “Pieces of Lives,” a toe tapping tune which sets the mood and foreshadows the theme.
The costumes with their bonnets and full swirling skirts perfectly set the mood of the period and were designed by Maura Lynch. Evocative lighting was by Joe Duran. Even the historic mill itself becomes a perfect setting. And of course there are the quilts, introduced piece by piece as the lives of the women unfold, until the grand finale.
Don’t miss “Quilters,” as powerful, charming and nostalgic musical that reminds us how far we have come from those frontier days just a few generations ago and also what we have left behind.
“Quilters” scheduled evening performances continues through May 14. Remaining matinee performances are April 16, 20 and 24 and May 8 and 14. The Historic Swift Creek Mill Theatre is located at 17401 Jefferson Davis Hwy. For ticket information, call 748-5203.