Blanche: The Bittersweet Life of a Wild Prairie Dame

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Blanche: The Bittersweet Life of a Wild Prairie Dame
Photograph: Donald Lee
Blanche: The Bittersweet Life of a Wild Prairie Dame
The life of Blanche Leadlay Gilbertson was as extraordinary as it was unremarkable. What makes this stirring, hour-long song cycle—written by and starring her granddaughter Onalea Gilbertson—resonate with such force is the attention it pays to the everyday aspects of her world. Part of the Greatest Generation, Blanche endured Depression hardships, waited at home in Alberta, Canada, as her husband fought in World War II, then raised a family while he was usually away working in the oilfields. Seventeen songs (a folksy mixture of country, chamber music, torch songs and more) recount moments ranging from the painful loss of her first husband to the bliss of rowdy parties. In between, we hear sassy Blanche's recorded voice and see her in projected black-and-white photographs. The younger Gilbertson imbues this nostalgic portrait of womanhood with retro glamour, an enchanting stage presence and a silky voice, and she’s ably abetted by actor-musicians Josh Henderson, Eric William Love and Eric Richardson. Director Rachel Avery’s economical staging is perfectly suited to the intimacy of a small Fringe theater, though one suspects bigger venues could be on Blanche’s horizon. (Visit our Fringe Festival page for more reviews, and fringenyc.org for more information.)—Diane Snyder

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