Gee's Bend

The Pettway women: Sadie (Regina Marie Williams) and her sister Nella (Thomasina Petrus)
Petronella Ytsma

The art of quilting sits at the center of Gee's Bend, Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder's meditation on multiple generations of an African-American family in the Deep South during the 20th century. The story is a patchwork of anecdotes from the 1930s to the modern era, and the characters are expert at using the rags of their lives—crushing poverty and racism among them, but also personal faults—to empower, overcome, or at least cope. The cast (led by the always impressive Regina Marie Williams) turn in solid performances from beginning to end, conveying everything from the troubled relationship between Williams's Sadie and her husband (James Young II) to the complex dance among Sadie, her sister (Thomasina Petrus), and her mother (Grammy Award-winning singer Core, who also plays Sadie's daughter in the final scenes). Toss in some terrific a cappella gospel singing, and you have a recipe for a great evening, right? Well, the first two-thirds are certainly winning, especially the middle part set in 1965. Against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement, Sadie begins to explore the freedoms she should have—both in the country at large (being able to vote or use any drinking fountain she wants) and at home. It's the final segment, set in 2002, that drags the proceedings down. The problem isn't the concept—seeing how the characters' lives have, and haven't, changed is a powerful device—it's that Wilder's script really goes nowhere here. These Gee's Bend residents have their triumphs (the quilts they made to warm and comfort themselves have been recognized as bona fide art) and tumult (will daughter Asia sell her part of the family farm?), but nothing rises to the same level of drama as before. The material may have worked as an epilogue, but as a full-fledged third act it makes the show drag when it should be singing. $15-$20. 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. 20 W. Seventh Pl., St. Paul; 651.291.7005 Through Nov. 7

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