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Seamless : Laguna Playhouse's 'Quilters' Weaves a Marvelous Musical Tale of Frontier Life

December 06, 1990|JAN HERMAN | Jan Herman covers theater for The Times Orange County Edition.

Whatever else theatergoers plan to see between now and Dec. 16, they should try not to miss the Laguna Playhouse production of "Quilters" at the Moulton Theatre.

This latest version of the Molly Newman-Barbara Damashek all-female frontier musical is such an unassuming marvel of theatrical brilliance, it is hard to know what or whom to praise first.

Shall we begin with the accomplished vocal talent of the wonderfully well-cast players--Laura Pryzgoda, Lisa Picotte, Tricia Griffin, Karen McBride, Carolyn Miller, Colleen Dunn and Karen Angela--or the considerable dramatic gifts that enable them to create portraits of pioneer women so gratifyingly different from each other?

Or shall we begin with the feeling that the piece has captured an immense cycle of experience common to most, if not all, women, pioneering or otherwise? "Quilters" deals with everything from menstruation and courtship to childbirth and mothering, from aborting an unwanted fetus to surviving a beloved husband's death, from being young to growing old.

In the wrong hands, "Quilters" could easily have become quaint and languorous. Its episodic vignettes about pioneer times on the prairie, pieced together like the show's handmade quilts, have a tendency toward the elegaic. But this touching, funny, musically winning production has been directed by Teri Ralston and performed by its cast with a verve and lack of nostalgia that give it the unsentimental pulse of life.

If the ensemble work looks as cohesive as the quilts that have gotten the characters through their hard lives on the prairie, it is not for lack of practice: This cast has performed "Quilters" four times before under Ralston's direction. And plans are under way to do so again later this season in Los Angeles.

Ralston, who appeared with the original cast of "Quilters" at the Denver Center Theatre in 1983 and in a production at Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum in 1985, first directed the show with this cast at the Moulton in January, 1987. They did it there in May, 1988, as well and at two festival competitions.

Pryzgoda offers two of the production's musical highlights: a haunting rendition of "The Butterfly," and "Quiltin' and Dreamin'." The brightest of nearly two dozen numbers include the entire ensemble doing "Pieces of Lives," "The Windmill Song," "Every Log in My House" and "Cornelia."

The varied pacing of Ralston's direction-cum-choreography is not to be overlooked, nor Jacquie Moffett's and Doug Williamson's functional but evocative design: a towering windmill, a raised platform and a few strategically placed wooden beams--set against a quilt-like backdrop and bathed in Steven Wolff Craig's flesh-toned lighting.

What: The Laguna Playhouse production of "Quilters," an all-female frontier musical.

When: Through Dec. 16; performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 9, at 8 p.m.; matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

Where: The Moulton Theatre, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach.

Whereabouts: Take the Laguna Freeway west to Laguna Canyon Road, or go east on Laguna Canyon Road from the Coast Highway.

Wherewithal: $14 to $22.

Where to call: (714) 494-8021.

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