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THEATER REVIEW / 'QUILTERS' : Tale of Women in Old West Is Rich Tapestry : The play provides a pattern of character studies and reminiscences of harsh frontier life.


It was a tough life for women on the expanding American frontier: They kept house, tended to the barnyard animals, gave birth to and raised the children, tended the sick and buried the dead.

If that weren't enough, frontier women made quilts: large quilts, tiny quilts, and all sorts of quilts in between, in numerous permutations of color and pattern. In fact, if what's portrayed in "Quilters"--a play with music--is to be believed, it's amazing that frontier women found time for anything other than quilting.

"Quilters" was originally developed and produced at the Denver Center Theater Company. The Santa Paula Theater Center is currently producing a version of play, this one based on an edition mounted last summer in Simi Valley, which was directed by Dani Brown and Roy Spicer III, who are also directing this production. At last week's opening, the fine collective performance drew as many audience ovations as a Wayne Newton concert. The show certainly deserves your attention.

A septet of talented women are featured, most of them relative newcomers to the Ventura County theatrical scene. Their characters reminisce about the days when they helped settle the West. In front of a minimal set and with few props, they act out various aspects of frontier life, from birth to a full-immersion baptism, to first encounters with "the curse," marriage, child-rearing and, ultimately, death.

It's often funny, occasionally tragic, and gives an unusual, if somewhat skewed, view of life on the plains during the 1800s. (Authors Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek based their script on several histories; Damashek's original songs are often reminiscent of traditional melodies.)

The cast consists of Brandy Ball, Kathryn Dippong, Mary A. Hill, Natalie Holcomb, Anne Howard, Lorraine MacDonald and Christine Zerbel. Each is featured at one time or another; several play a variety of roles, some doubling as men (there's one very funny scene involving a laconic cowboy), and all are called upon to sing. Musical accompaniment is provided by co-director Spicer on piano and guitarist Dave Winstone.

Co-director Brown is also credited as choreographer, with Spicer as musical director. Whoever is responsible, the onstage movement (even when characters are not dancing) is fluid and well-paced.


* WHAT: "Quilters."

* WHEN: Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8 and Sundays at 2:30, through Aug. 28.

* WHERE: Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. 7th St., Santa Paula.

* HOW MUCH: Thursday and Friday evenings and Sunday afternoon: $12.50 general admission, $10 students and seniors. Saturday evening: $15 general admission, $12.50 for students and seniors.

* FYI: For reservations or further information, call 525-4645.

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