Picture a multi-patterned quilt, like the kind hanging on the walls of the Grove Theatre Company's GEM Theatre, and you've grasped Molly Newman's and Barbara Damashek's plan for their elegiac musical, "Quilters."
Indeed, the show moves from one "block," or pattern, to another, each described, each with a story to tell.
"Quilters," though, is hardly seamless. Grand quilting matriarch Sarah McKendree Bonham (Donna Fuller) and her six daughters are both the needle and thread, and the designs themselves--linking the stories and enacting them. It's an ancient theatrical technique, of course: The Bonhams in their bright frontier dresses narrate and set up the scene, then throw a gray blanket over their shoulders, slump down to the floor, and it's a bitter winter. Seldom, however, does the switch and transition work (either in Newman's and Damashek's conception or Thomas F. Bradac's staging) so that we're unaware of them. We're seeing the mechanics, not the magic--trouble for a 2 1/2-hour show with more reverie than drama in its veins.
Yet "Quilters" dramatizes perhaps the most persuasive argument for a woman's right to choose an abortion that the stage has ever managed. This is not the Nostalgia of the Pioneers; the pain and suffering and loneliness are palpable in Bradac's production and the ensemble is often an expressive lot. One curiosity though: Why is it that the solo singing of Damashek's rich, bluegrass-meets-Copland music is so often wobbly and off-key, but the group singing is so vibrantly felt?
FOR THE RECORD STAGE REVIEW
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 22, 1986 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 7 Column 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 13 words Type of Material: Correction
In the Oct. 10 Stage Beat column, the name of "Deals" playwright Bill Shick was misspelled.
Performances at 12852 Main St., Garden Grove; Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays (Oct. 12 and 19), 7:30 p.m., (Oct. 26), 3 p.m. Ends Nov. 1 ((714) 636-7213).
'WAIT UNTIL DARK'
I kept feeling envious of those in the Burbank Theatre audience who had never seen the film version of Frederick Knott's "Wait Until Dark." They did not have to contend with memories of the terrified Audrey Hepburn or the ghoulishly psychotic Alan Arkin in order to enjoy this superlatively plotted murder/thriller as directed with a modest sense for the juggernaut by Michael Sloan. Lucky people.
Yet Sloan surprisingly reveals how stage-worthy a play Knott's is: the business with the plotting heroin thieves (this was written in the days when that was the drug of the headlines) signaling each other with Venetian blinds, or the effect when the knives are drawn and the lights are out (by the very fine designer Ray Simpson) give evidence of a theatrically minded thriller.
Sloan's cast, headed by Greg Mullavey as the sinister Roat, Doug McClure as his friendly partner and Cheryl McMannis as the blind Susy unwittingly in possession of a doll some would kill for, haven't settled into their parts as yet, but Mullavey and McMannis summon the needed tension at the climax.
That McMannis is herself blind is virtually unnoticeable. This makes the program note announcing her impairment more than a touch distasteful, and certainly intrusive. McManis does just fine on her own, thank you.
Performances at 1111 W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Nov. 15 ((818) 848-7791).
'BOOK OF THE CRAZY AFRICAN'
The pages of this "Book of the Crazy African" are impressionistic indeed. Who, for instance, is the Crazy African? Author (of the musical's book, lyrics and music) Ted Wilson suggests it is all black Americans cut off from their sources. But it could just as well be that wild, leaping figure (dancer Bruce Heath) who gyrates in and out of this evening montage of music and scenes like a wired, primeval creature from the deep.
Some of the scenes at the Skylight Theatre etch out moments and lives of urban Angst , as in "Jump Johnny Jump" when the stage conception and cast are in lockstep with each other. But just as often, the cliches of city life (drugs, good women hustled by bad men) dominate, along with sloppy imagery and sloppier blocking. Director Judyann Elder has produced a highly erratic, highly idiosyncratic amalgam of moments that never coalesce into a meaningful vision.
While searching for the meaning in all this, pay attention to performers Justin Lord and Sheila Scott-Wilkinson and musicians Derf Reklaw and Arthur Wilson. Their work is both painfully expressive and joyful, quintessentially Afro-American.
Performances at 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Runs indefinitely (652-3261) or (850-0214).
In "Deals," at Theatre Theater, playwright Bill Schick doesn't take us anywhere that David Mamet hasn't already taken us in "American Buffalo" or "Glengarry Glen Ross." His subject is the world of car sales, where even the hero, Carl (Charles Lanyer), lives by a compromised set of scruples: He'll jack up car prices, but he won't be bought off.