Audiences will be enthralled by the passionate and soulful melodies of old gospel songs, the display of unwavering braveness during the Civil Rights Movement and the powerful tapestry of unique African-American quilting traditions, as they watch the musical “Gee’s Bend”, written by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder, currently being performed at the Metro Stage in Alexandria, Va.
The play explores the life and times as Sadie Pettway, portrayed by Washington, D.C.’s Roz White, who recounts Sadie’s experiences in 1939, 1965 and 2002 on a secluded stretch by a bend in the Alabama River, 60 miles southwest of Montgomery, in rural Alabama.
Other actors featured in Gee’s Bend are Duyen Washington, Margo Moorer, and Anthony Manough. The play is directed and choreographed by Thomas W. Jones II; music direction is by William Hubbard and William Knowles. Musician Greg Holloway is featured on percussion. Gee’s Bend will be performed at Metro Stage through November 3, 2013.
In dramatizing the life of a rural Alabama Black girl, White said she saw “a lot of myself in Sadie, absolutely.” Sadie’s mother, played by Washington, who in 1939 attempts to prepare her for cooking, cleaning and making authentic quilts from old worn clothing, ends up preparing Sadie for marriage and babies with tenant farmer Macon Pettway, played by Manough.
Manough exemplifies the celebration of hard work and peaceful married life in Gee’s Bend to Sadie through Macon, yet becomes sick as he cares for Sadie and their children during tough economic times.
In later scenes, a 40-year old Sadie realizes there is more to life beyond the Bend, and gets her independent-minded sister Nella, played by Moorer, to follow her in support of the Civil Rights movement in 1965. The character Nella showcases defiance to traditional roles in the home, yet exposes “real life” on stage as she nervously follows her sister’s journey behind the footsteps of Dr. Martin L. King Jr.
Told through African-American spirituals and hymns, Moorer and White give truth to the impact of King’s visit to Gee’s Bend Pleasant Grove Baptist Church on a rainy night, Sadie’s march with him to Selma, and both Sadie and Nella registering to vote in nearby Camden and drinking from a “Whites Only” water fountain. Despite the beating and bruises from the police during the Selma march and also from her ailing husband Macon, White gives us a glimpse of Sadie as a courageous woman who stands her ground and her principles. Despite the rural ferry being discontinued due to the audaciousness of Blacks registering to vote, Sadie is forced to support herself without connection to the larger world through Camden and after the untimely death of her husband Macon.
Performances of Gee’s Bend at Metro Stage, 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, Va. Are scheduled through Nov. 3. General admission tickets cost $50. Visit www.metrostage.org for more information.