Categories

Gee’s Bend at MetroStage

Jordan Wright
September 17, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Roz White as Sadie and Margo Moorer as Nella in Gee’s Bend - Photo credit Chris Banks

Roz White as Sadie and Margo Moorer as Nella in Gee’s Bend – Photo credit Chris Banks

“I had a vision.  Like the story passed down by my grandfather,” says Sadie Pettway, though she wasn’t a Pettway yet, at least not till she met the smooth-talking Macon, a man with dreams as big as hers and a determination to make her his wife.  “He’s got big plans for land and babies,” she boasts to her sister Nella.  As in most of the scenes Sadie, Nella, their mother Alice, and husband Macon sing their stories – – stories of survival and stories of hope told in authentic gospel music and reflected in their hand-sewn quilts.  You’ll hear “How I Got Over”, “Banks of Jordan”, “He’s All I Need” and many more as the music reflects the both the period and the emotion.

Anthony Manough as Macon and Roz White as Sadie - Photo credit Chris Banks

Anthony Manough as Macon and Roz White as Sadie – Photo credit Chris Banks

MetroStage’s longtime Music Directors, William Hubbard and William Knowles have added eight traditional gospel songs to the four from the original production of Gee’s Bend to create a powerful, soul-stirring, come-to-Jesus experience that reaches deep into your spirit and claws its way beyond the heavens.  But that doesn’t mean there’s no sass.  The sisters snipe at each other about men, morals and momma and as Nella tells Sadie, “It don’t matter what a quilt looks like.  It’s what you do under it!”

The play slash musical (Artistic Director Carolyn Griffin is still puzzling out how to categorize it) is set in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, a real place separated from the mainland by a rickety unpredictable ferry and a surrounding river.  Named for former slave owner, Joseph Gee, it’s situated smack dab in the cradle of Dr. King’s movement – a bus ride from Selma and the historic march that Sadie longs to be a part of.  The play spans the years from 1939 to 2002 focusing on the Pettway family, generations of former slaves whose land holdings and civil rights were dearly bought and fought for.

Margo Moorer (Nella), Roz White (Sadie) and Duyen Washington (Alice) - Photo credit Chris Banks

Margo Moorer (Nella), Roz White (Sadie) and Duyen Washington (Alice) – Photo credit Chris Banks

Duyen Washington plays Alice (and later niece, Asia) a wise matriarch who tries to train her daughters to be good housewives and even better quilters.  (The play’s many-colored quilts are as authentic as it gets and are from the original production at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.)  Washington crafts a beautiful portrait of a woman with little but her heart to give her girls.  Roz White, whose legendary voice has been heard in countless MetroStage productions from Three Sistahs, Cool Papa’s Party, Pearl Bailey…by request to her most recent role as Billie Holiday in Ladies Swing the Blues, gives us the stalwart Sadie, a perfect foil to her devil-may-care sister Nella played by Margo Moorer whose stage credits rival her film credits in such movies as Forrest Gump, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.  The movie The Watsons Go to Birmingham, in which she plays Mrs. Davidson, has its red carpet debut this week in Washington, DC.

Anthony Manough (Macon), Duyen Washington (Alice), Margo Moorer (Nella), Roz White (Sadie) - Photo credit Chris Banks

Anthony Manough (Macon), Duyen Washington (Alice), Margo Moorer (Nella), Roz White (Sadie) – Photo credit Chris Banks

Anthony Manough crafts a likeable but hard-hearted Macon, an ambitious man, who forgets the grim lessons of his youth as he tries to keep Sadie from her mission to register to vote.  Manough, too, has appeared in numerous MetroStage productions (as well as on Broadway in The Lion King and Jesus Christ Superstar), lending his virtuoso voice and musical talents as Charlie Parker in Ladies Swing the Blues. 

Percussionist Greg Holloway handily backs up the amazing a capella singers with African-inspired gospel rhythms and cleverly imagined sound effects.  Thomas W. Jones II, the writer, director and actor who has received a combined 42 Helen Hayes Award nominations, directs the stellar cast to achieve a richly textured evening of song and soul marked by redemption and transformation.

Highly recommended.

At MetroStage through November 3rd – 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information visit www.metrostage.org.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>