Flint Youth Theatre’s “Gee’s Bend” Inspires and Enthralls

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

Coming appropriately in Black History Month, Flint Youth Theatre’s current offering, which opened Friday, is a captivating and often gripping story of one small Alabama community and the love, art, and strength that was shaped there.  Gee’s Bend, written by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder, showcases three generations of strong, resilient women and the complexity of their lives as it emerged through their quilts.

The story began with Sadie (Deirdre S. Baker) at age 15. Smart and bubbly, she interacted delightfully with her sister Nella (Marie L. VanHorn) and her mother (Teresa L. Anthony).  Baker’s Sadie aged 60-plus years throughout the play and her handling of this facet was incredible. Clearly the play’s anchor, she was not only able to change her looks, but her carriage, her demeanor, and even her voice expanded to meet the role’s requirements. Her performance was a clinic on becoming the character.

She was matched nicely by VanHorn who brought the ornery but comically quirky Nella to life and then took her all the way to a sort of sentimental senility before our eyes.  This was a resoundingly memorable character made even more so by VanHorn’s spunky and endearing portrayal.

Constantly quilting, Anthony was able to play both the mother of these two and then Sadie’s child without missing a beat.  Sweet but sternly maternal at first, she appeared later as a respectful and confident grown daughter.  There was a resemblance, but she was definitely two different characters.

Kenn Hopkins Jr. was big and strong but walked a tricky line as Sadie’s husband, Macon. There’s was obviously a loving match until Sadie became involved in the Civil Rights struggle, and Macon’s ability to “protect” her was threatened.  It’s worth noting that he managed not to alienate us. Indeed, as Macon became ill, he was able to exude the complicated relationship that had developed between them.

A chorus of youngsters sang, recited, and danced their way through the play acting as the glue and the continuity, but never overpowered the story or the action. They were narrators and prop masters and included Kailyn Alderman, David Guster, Layla Meillier, Ally Moors and Kathyrn Spademan.

Director Rodney Creech’s troupe performed on a stage set interestingly at an angle so as to cover more area. Trap doors in the wooden platform opened to reveal the “river” with actual water, the ground with enough dirt to bury items, as well as simple hollows to provide props when needed.

In the end, there is much to recommend this show. It is not only historically accurate featuring moments from the 1960’s struggle, but the story of this town and these women is also based heavily on fact.  We left the theatre inspired and enthralled.

Gee’s Bend will continue through March 3. For information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-1530 or online at www.flintyouththeatre.org

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