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Knitting at Signature Theatre

20 June 2010

…no, I did not knit at Signature Theatre.  But someone does!  One imagines it must be someone in props.  I’ve had season tickets to Signature for several years, and though I’ve admired several knitted garments I haven’t noticed a trend until now.

It started with Sweeney Todd (a dark but lovely Sondheim musical, redundant though that may be).  Mrs. Lovett’s duet with Tobias has always included her knitting him a scarf. Sherri Edelen, the actress who played Lovett at Signature, actually knit and cast off a simple ribbed scarf during the song, wrapping the finished scarf around Tobias’ neck as she sings.  Knitting geek that I am, I thought about the prop master, Eileen Garcia – or perhaps even Edelen herself – unraveling the cast-off row after each show, preparing for the next performance.

So far, a nice knitting moment, but nothing to write home about.  I admired Edelen for actually knitting during the song, wondered whether she learned to knit for the part, but decided it would be silly to post about something that’s presumably in every production of a well-known musical.

But!  Two musicals that include knitting…that’s a nice pattern.  Ricky Ian Gordon’s Sycamore Trees had its world premiere at Signature this spring, and the main character’s doomed heroin addict sister dreams of “writing a book on knitting” while trying to get sober. After her death, she sits in a chair on a catwalk above the main action and knits (as Gay Guy of GG/SG said to me afterwards, “Knitting is Heaven!” I told him I already knew).

Later, the character makes her father a sweater to wear when he joins her in the great beyond. Again, the actress (Jessica Molaskey) is really knitting onstage.  Again, the main knitting prop is a scarf.  This one has a knit/purl pattern that’s more complicated than Sweeney’s rib.  Is our prop knitter getting better, or did she know how to knit all along, and decide Sweeney’s grim set called for a less ornamental scarf?  I suspect the latter, but that’s just a gut feeling.

In both productions knitting indicates love between characters, a kind of nurturing that presumably has been going on for quite some time.  In Gordon’s more modern performance, it also has to do with staying sober, with comforting oneself as well as those around one, with staying out of the darkness into which his characters stray from time to time.  Of course it does – those of us who knit all know someone who learned to knit during a difficult time, or who found knitting to be a comfort at one time or another.  I found myself a little bothered by the suggestion that “writing a book on knitting” might represent a kind of settling for Molaskey’s ultra-feminist character, especially since a book on knitting is exactly what I’m writing these days.  I am conveniently overlooking the possible slam on knitting, reminding myself that I am both a feminist and a knitter, and I know many others who are, too.

You can watch Gordon talk about the inspiration for Sycamore Trees below. He doesn’t talk about knitting…but we know he’s thinking about it, right?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jessica Molaskey permalink
    21 June 2010 9:28 am

    Dear Katheleen,
    It was my idea to knit while “in Heaven” because the character I played in the show Susan (her real name ) ended up writing two very popular books on knitting before she died. Her last one is called KNITTING HEAVEN AND EARTH. In it she speaks of the spiritual and healing nature of Knitting. The Actual prop for the show was knitted by my 12 year old daughter who has a deep connection with knitting and takes classes here in New York at a sweet place called knitty City. Because I was leaving her for the first time since she was born she wanted me to have a part of her with me. She came up with this sweet lace pattern that was much more advanced than my knitting. I would add about four or five rows each night and take them out and start out again the next show. Thanks for noticing.. as they say God is in the details…and I always love it when audience members get the little ideas that you put into a show….best Jessica Molaskey

  2. 21 June 2010 11:42 am

    What a wonderful story! Thanks!

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