QUILTERS Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle The Ross Valley Players are currently presenting QUILTERS: A MUSICAL, multi-multi-layered collaborative piece derived from a book written by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek, set to music and lyrics by Barbara Damashek, Directed by Marin’s first lady of Theatre: Linda Dunn, with Musical Direction by Gloria Wood and Choreographed by Linda Dunn. This whole ménage is rests on a foundation book by Patricia Cooper and Norma Bradley Hall: THE QUILTERS: WOMEN AND DOMESTIC ART: AN ORAL HISTORY. While it may take many pieces of fabric to make a quilt, it also requires many talents to stitch together an entertaining tableau that features a detailed, dramatic portrait of pioneer life on the prairie, fashioned from songs, stories and dances. There seem to exist as many origins to quilting as there are quilt designs. The Puritans, who liked the concept of God’s providence—hence Providence, Rhode Island and Providence Town, Massachusetts—were not ones to waste anything. To waste was an affront to their Benefactor; they used the Book of Mark to justify their steadfast position. “Mark 6:41 And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. Mark 6:42 And they did all eat, and were filled. Mark 6:43 And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes. Mark 6:44 And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men.” The Puritans paid careful attention to the fact that the left-overs were gathered up: not wasted. The allegory was not lost on Quilters: no scrap or fragment of textile was too small, too faded or too worn to not be incorporated into a quilt. Like the play itself, the quilt was multi-layered both in its form and function: it chronicled the life and history of the quilters and kept them warm inside their sod hovels. This production owes much to the lustrous voices of Dawn Marie Hamilton and Olivia Harrison. Lighting Design by Les Lizama is a conspicuous asset to the show: the back drop seems to change colors like a Mood Ring always reflecting the emotional tenor of the play. Costuming, always a challenge to the community theater, is superbly handled by Michael Berg who gives everyone a prairie homespun look without casting a pale of shapeless dowdiness over the lovely actresses. Perhaps because the play is drafted and crafted nearly bereft of men, it remains centered on what is real, what is essential and what is truly valuable in life: the play is a celebration of the very essence of life. In a world where a sense of material wellbeing is declining like a Mosler Safe dropped from the cargo ramp of a C-130 Hercules, it is nice to be buoyed by a core belief in simple virtues, gifts and pleasures: all of which seem to be manifest in the quilting tradition. You may have lost your 401K, motor yacht and Time-Share in Vegas, but if you have a bag of rags, a needle and thread, you can get busy creating a family treasure. For tickets to a restorative, upbeat and heartwarming evening’s entertainment, call 415-456-9555 or surf on over to www.rossvalleyplayers.com.

Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

The award winning Off Broadway West Theatre Company is currently staging a menacing pair of Pinter plays that will have you digging for valerian roots and foraging for Saint John’s Wort.

Durand Garcia directs THE DUMB WAITER, a disturbing piece that takes the audience on a sled ride from the existential peak of Beckett, down the slippery slope, to the unbridled and unhinged absurdity of Kafka.

This is a wonderful show for the cerebrotonics who would prefer to laugh at their own existence rather than someone else’s jokes.

Conor Hamill and Shane Fahy superbly play Gus and Ben: two hired guns who have cashed in their moral chips, and severed their ties with life, their sanity and their humanity.

Slipping into madness can be a gradual, unconscious process—a series of petty compromises—with transitions so subtle that they fail to set off the smoke alarm as they inexorably ratchet the despondent into deeper despair.

Gus and Ben should have known they had arrived at the wasteland when they began responding to the demands of a dumb waiter by offering up their stale biscuits and rancid milk; they prove that insanity does not have to be synonymous with loneliness if you can commit yourself to an ironclad folie au deux.

Durand Garcia captures the very essence of Pinter: he brings the audience face to face with Pinter’s swirling abyss of absurdity and gives them a convincing peek at anesthetized people staggering beneath the tedious burden of human consciousness.

THE DUMB WAITER is not light weight theatrical pabulum: if you cried yourself to sleep after BAMBI, you might want to come in after intermission and catch THE LOVER instead.

THE LOVER, as directed by Cecilia Palmtag, depicts a married couple’s creative struggle to keep eroticism alive in marriage.

As Oscar Wilde once observed, “The chains of matrimony are so heavy, it sometimes requires three to lift them.”

Sarah (played by Nicole Helfer) and Richard (played by Chad Stender) invent third parties to keep Hymen and Eros living under the same roof.

In Pinteresque form, John the milkman enters to tantalize the prurient minds of the audience, and to send them scampering down the alleyway to false hypothesis.

Miss Helfer delivers a very steamy performance as Sarah.

A palpable tension is sustained by the characters: each one demanding that the other play an active role in constructing a life worth living and a marriage tolerably worthy of preserving.

This is entertainment, art and life bundled into two well executed shows.

If you take your theater seriously, this is not to be missed: these plays pick up where Edward Albee, David Mamet, Gogol, Ionesco and your Psychotherapist left off.

For tickets visit www.offbroadwaywest.org.