Photo by Jonathan Slaff
I was fortunate to see the play “Grandma’s Quilt” before it was temporarily shutdown due to the Coronavirus. Management did not strike the stage because they expect that the play may be reopened in April. Performed by Karen Brown, directed by Anthony J. Hamilton and produced by the Negro Ensemble Company, “Grandma’s Quilt” is being featured at St Mark’s Theatre 80, located at 80 St Marks Place in Manhattan.
Karen Brown is a huge presence on stage and singularly carries the entire production playing the characters of Grandma and her granddaughter. The audience sees the action through the granddaughter in retrospect and via grandma herself as she tells the events of her life and about the people who loved and influenced her. Each chapter of her life, a patch in the quilt.
One sees the richness of Grandma’s life though she lives in sparse circumstances. And Grandma lives a full life through the joys and tragedies of her childhood, marriage, deaths, segregation and surviving the hatred of white people. Grandma takes a stalwart attitude, noting the meanness of her employer and also her employer’s moments of kindness.
“Grandma’s Quilt,” is a tale of survival. Life in action with all its joys and pains. A history of it stitched in a quilt. The ignorance and injustice of human kind is within the play and gives rise to anger, at least it did in me, but grandma’s youthful shyness and coyness when her future husband came courting was also touching. The children she brought into the world, another patch in the quilt. A quilt she had worked on over the years but was eager to finish as she recognized the end of life was swiftly approaching.
As the Coronavirus spreads and unprepared venues and officials try to get a handle on it, audience members were asked to elbow bump in greeting as well as sit scattered in the theater the day I attended. Of course this can only happen when the attendance is small. Therefore, as larger audiences were expected, there was no alternative but to protect the health of Theatre 80 staff, actors and audience so the decision was made to temporarily suspend performances until such time it would be safe for theater patrons to attend. It is hoped that the production will continue sometime in April. Interested parties will have to inquire at such time whether the production is slated to resume.
Theatre 80 has both a bar and restaurant part where customers can relax while waiting for productions to begin. The owner Lorcan Otway is on the premises and is a welcoming and charming presence who is happy to talk about the history of the theater and its speakeasy past, as well as its Walk of Stars that bears the signatures of show business denizens such as Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford and Gary Burghoff, etc.
I recommend seeing “Grandma’s Quilt,” when it reopens. It’s thought provoking story is something that remains in memory after you leave the theater. Hopefully, it will return in April and if so, I recommend you go see it.