The Rep brings "Gee's Bend" to the stage 

click to enlarge 'GEE'S BEND': Monica Parks, Nambi E. Kelley and Shannon Lamb star in The Rep's production.
  • 'GEE'S BEND': Monica Parks, Nambi E. Kelley and Shannon Lamb star in The Rep's production.

"Gee's Bend," which opens at the Arkansas Repertory Theater Jan. 25, follows a mother and two daughters in an insular Alabama community as they quilt, marry, fight and fight for their dreams.

Commissioned by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and written by Elyzabeth Wilder in 2006, the play takes its inspiration from the real life women of Gee's Bend, a riverside community 60 miles south of Montgomery, made up of the descendants of slaves.

The women of Gee's Bend are known nationally for their quilt tradition, their designs geometric and African. But, as Gilbert McCauley, director of The Rep's production of Wilder's play says, "Gee's Bend is not about the quilts. It's about these women and their lives, how they were able to piece together a richness from the meagerness around them."

The story begins in 1939, when the families of Gee's Bend became landowners, and tracks one family through the Civil Rights era and to their quilts' first large-scale museum exhibit in 2002.

Wilder's main character, Sadie Pettway, is based on Mary Lee Bendolph, who was a key source for J.R. Moehringer's Pulitzer Prize-winning series in the Los Angeles Times on the women of Gee's Bend. Moehringer wrote, "Gee's Bend is the last place on Earth still safe enough for children and dead folks to go walking after dark."

The history of Gee's Bend was first recorded by New Deal photographer Dorothea Lange, who visited a farming project there initiated by the federal government in 1930. In 1965, after Martin Luther King Jr. visited the community, the white folks across the river in Camden, Ala., shut down the ferry to Gee's Bend. That ferry wasn't restored until 2006. Gee's Bend residents lived in near seclusion, even as the efforts of a priest guided their quilts to the shelves of major department stores.

Wilder's characters are intuitive, intimate and ultimately far-sighted. To help the cast connect with each other and their own intuition, McCauley, a theater professor at the University of Massachusetts, gives the actors an exercise. He chooses a word — "dream," "freedom," "song" — and asks them to present a poem, gesture, sound or visual representation of that word. "That's how you get those personal stories, so that everybody contributes to a different way of seeing this play. It's definitely going to be different and much richer than I saw it in my head, because everybody is putting their little scrap into it. It's like the quilts," he said.

Gee's Bend is also known for its music — a cappella field songs rendered in harmonious rounds. The Rep show will incorporate music from a 37-track recording made in Gee's Bend in 1941 and 2002. "One of the challenges we've had is trying to figure out ways that the music doesn't feel forced, so that there's a meaning behind it. It's introducing us to something, or commenting what's going on, or there's juxtaposition with what's going on," said Adewunmi Oke, the dramaturgist for the production.

There will be play previews Wednesday and Thursday, Jan. 23 (pay-what-you-can-night) and Jan. 24, with pre-show director talks at 6:15 p.m. There will be a cast meet and greet after the official opening performance Jan. 25. The play runs through Feb. 10, with curtain at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $25-$40.



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Cheree Franco

Readers also liked…

Most Shared

  • Architecture lecture: Sheila Kennedy on "soft" design

    Sheila Kennedy, a professor of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder of Kennedy & Violich Architecture Ltd., will give the June Freeman lecture tonight at the Arkansas Arts Center, part of the Architecture + Design Network series at the Arkansas Arts Center.
  • Petition calls for Jason Rapert Sewage Tanks in Conway

    A tribute is proposed for Conway's state senator Jason Rapert: naming the city's sewage sludge tanks for him. Petitioners see a similarity.
  • Health agency socked with big verdict, Sen. Hutchinson faulted for legal work

    A former mental health agency director has won a default judgment worth $358,000 over a claim for unpaid retirement pay and Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson is apparently to blame for failure to respond to pleadings in the case.
  • Religious right group calls for compromise on damage lawsuit amendment

    The Family Council, the religious right political lobby, has issued a statement urging its followers to oppose the so-called tort reform amendment to limit attorney fees and awards in damage lawsuits.
  • Constituents go Cotton pickin' at Springdale town hall

    Sen. Tom Cotton, cordial to a fault, appeared before a capacity crowd at the 2,200 seat Pat Walker Performing Arts Center at Springdale High tonight to a mixed chorus of clapping and boos. Other than polite applause when he introduced his mom and dad and a still moment as he led the crowd in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance — his night didn't get much better from there.

Latest in A&E Feature

  • Believing is seeing

    A look at Rebecca Gayle Howell's new novel-in-poems, 'American Purgatory.'
    • Feb 16, 2017
  • A Q&A with Adia Victoria

    On the cultural dominance of patrician noses, Nina Simone and more.
    • Feb 9, 2017
  • Warriors

    Michael Shaeffer's collection captures queens-in-transition.
    • Feb 2, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Little River County gears up for Sesquicentennial

Little River County gears up for Sesquicentennial

Historical entertainment planned for joint celebration of three Southwest Arkansas milestone anniversaries

Event Calendar

« »


  1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28  

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation