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A CurtainUp Connecticut Review
Astutely and lovingly directed by Hana S. Sharif, the theater's Artistic Producer and Aetna New Voices Fellow, Gee's Bend offers a sampler of events in the lives of sisters Sadie and Nella from 1939 through the racial unrest of the 1960s to the 21st century with gospel songs forming borders around the scenes.
Sadie (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) regrets having to give up her schooling when she gets pregnant, but Macon (Teagle F. Bougere) marries her and follows through on his promises to provide her with her own home, acres of crops, lots of babies and doors that never need to be locked. Meanwhile, Nella (Tamela Aldridge) doesn't share her sister's enthusiasm for hearing God's word, making a home, or piecing together scraps of material to create the quilts that are part of the tradition of the women in the family. The good-natured banter which continues between the sisters from their adolescence through fragile old age is a strong point of Wilder's play, offering moments of humor as well as pathos.
Sadie defies Macon to participate in civil rights activity and to attend a speech by Dr. King. He beats her and locks her out of the house. The quilts end up providing a different kind of comfort for the women of the community: a source of income and the means of offering forgiveness.
The actresses playing the sisters are quite engaging. Miche Braden, who plays the girls' mother as well as Sadie's daughter, also lends her vocal and arranging talents to the songs sung between scenes. Bougere givess Macon with just the right balance and all of the performances weave together to allow the tale to unfold in its quiet, subtle way, almost as though it were wrapping us up and tucking us in.
The one disappointment in this production is the lack of quilts. Scott Bradley opts for abstract depictions of quilt patches in his set design, and there are a few quilts used as props, but we miss not see the quilts hung and displayed, especially in a scene where the women are at a museum exhibit of their works and the audience is faced with a blank backdrop. However, there is a consolation: the Gee's Bend quilt "Fences" is on display in Hartford Stage's upper lobby and can be viewed by audience members prior to all performances and by the general public on Mondays from 12 to 5 pm free of charge. The theater is also participating in the Community Threads Project, a city-wide art event featuring quilt exhibits, including Gee's Bend quilts and members of the real-life Gee's Bend quilting community will be at Hartford Stage on Sunday, Feb. 7 to discuss the play, their experiences, and their creations.