BWW Review: NEW TAMPA PLAYERS OFFER A CELEBRATION OF COURAGE WITH PRODUCTION OF QUILT at Catherine Hickman Theatre
Throughout our history, men and women had to hide their sexual orientation for fear of recrimination of the government, their employers, and the very public at large. The attack of the AIDS virus only served to increase distrust and bring outright hate to the forefront.
Fast forward to October 12, 2017 within the beautiful Catherine Hickman Theatre in Gulfport, FL and sometimes a performance comes along that is still so very relevant that one would doubt the passage of time.
Yet, here we are on the 30th anniversary of the creation of the NAMES PROJECT AIDS Memorial Quilt, remembering the men and women who lost their battle. Though today AIDS might not be the death sentence it was then, a new generation of men and women are still fighting for equality. New Tampa Player's QUILT: A MUSICAL CELEBRATION should be standing room only, should be required attendance of anyone that reduces someone to a stereotype.
QUILT focuses on the universality of the AIDS epidemic with compassion, anger, fear, and humor, while celebrating the courage of living and dying in the age of AIDS.
Revealing a dizzying kaleidoscope of the emotions, the monologues and songs are threaded together by a volunteer's experience while making a quilt panel in memory of a friend.
The thread that ties the tapestry together is Wes, an HIV positive young man that lost Philip, his "gumdrop." Michael Bonassar is authentic and heart-breaking in his delivery to his deceased love. You feel his loss and hopelessness when he plans to take his life and later, a sense of relief, that making a memorial panel for Philip has given him a reason to extend his time on Earth a while longer.
With each anecdote or song, a panel is hung on a bare white wall, a name remembered, a story recounted. Every song is sung with great artistry and attention to the importance of the lyrics.
There is so much heart in the story-telling and music, honest tales of love and loss. Among the many characters we meet are Karen (Coral Furtado) a volunteer nervous of what might greet her volunteering at the Gay and Lesbian Center; a mom (Tracy Stemm) and a lover (Erich Krzyzak) celebrating the memories of their beloved Todd; a grandmother (Diane Geiger) who won't allow her grand-daughter's last name to appear on her memorial quilt; a mother (Leanne Ferguson) denying her son died of AIDS or was "that way" because a "mother would know"; a nurse (Lena Morisseau) who befriended her next store neighbor and helped him end his suffering; a mom (Michele McCarty) who through a blood transfusion inadvertently gave her son the disease; a family not allowing a young niece to see her uncle because he was "funny," among others.
As the standing ovation that greeted the actors Wednesday night proved, each was incredible in his role, but three scenes stood out above the rest.
Tom Bronson as photographer Paul performing "At a Distance" can be described in very simple terms: it was a beautiful performance. Paul made a panel for brother whose lifestyle he had a hard time accepting. After his passing, in an attempt to make amends for time lost, he began volunteering at GMHC as a buddy, providing ongoing support to people with AIDS.
Kidany Camilo Nieves is exceptional as Timmy Bell, a diminutive gay man nicknamed Tinker Bell who lost his true love, Peter Brown. I've seen this talented young man in A CHRISTMAS CAROL, but this was the role he was meant to play. When his monologue dissolved into sobs, I doubt there was a dry eye in the house. I know mine weren't.
Maggie Gamson and Erich Krzyzak singing "I Believe in You" was by far the cast's (I asked after the show) and my favorite musical performance of the evening. When she started reading a letter to the "Quilt People," I had a sense of déjà vu to Gamson writing in a diary as Ann Frank, but who knew this young lady could sing. I predict we will see this humble young star on Broadway one day.
And seeing an actual panel from the quilt, traveling with New Tampa Players hung on stage - block 1976 honoring Tampa Bay victims of AIDS - is something I will not soon forget.
One thing I can say for sure, you may hesitate to see a show about the AIDS Memorial Quilt, but I assure you this is not a show about dying, but about the value and appreciation of life. This simple poignant production and the cast that brought the memories to stage is a must see.
QUILT: A MUSICAL CELEBRATION is performed tonight @ 8:00 PM at Stageworks Theatre, Tampa; Friday, October 13th @ 8:00 PM at University Area CDC, Tampa; and Saturday, October 14th @ 8:00 PM at HCC Ybor Studio Theatre, Tampa. Tickets are $15 and available at http://www.newtampaplayers.org/.