Going to St. Ives
What could be more suitable for Mothers Day than the tale of two mothers sharing tea and sympathy over Blue Willow china: helping each other deal with life’s unexpected twists and turns, bartering favors tit for tat — life for death? Over the past three years, Annapolis stages have featured four plays by the prolific Pulitzer- and Tony-nominated playwright Lee Blessing: Chesapeake, Two Rooms, Fortinbras and now Going to St. Ives, showing through May 19 at Colonial Players. His work, always thick with political and personal tensions, ranges from breath taking to sidesplitting. This time, the laughs are mere pressure-release valves for high drama.
Outwardly, May N’Kame (Lolita-Marie), the mother of an African dictator, and Dr. Cora Gage (Heather Quinn), an ophthalmic surgeon in St. Ives, England, appear to have nothing in common beyond a doctor/patient relationship. Yet their shared guilt and grief for their sons, one living and one dead, unite them long past tea time and across the globe.
Without divulging too much of the plot of this morality tale, I’ll say that both women want something big from the other, consequences be damned. Cora wants May to use her influence in affecting the release of four physicians who are held as political prisoners by May’s son, the “monster.”
May wants something much bigger and whispered. Throughout Act I, she draws Cora into a game of cat and mouse, forcing Cora to reveal the pain of her child’s untimely death, for which Cora blames herself. May likens Cora’s sorrow to her own disappointment in a sweet son turned murderous despot. The consequences of their collaboration unfold in a rather predictable fashion during Act II, set in Africa six months later.
Lolita-Marie is magnificent in the role of May: so imperious, sophisticated and savvy that I was transported by her performance, the most convincing I have ever encountered in amateur theater. Regal in tribal dresses of silk brocades and cotton prints, she speaks African-tinged British English suitable for tea with the queen. She commands, cajoles and enunciates a fine line between certitude and threat even as she yearns for her dusty, dangerous homeland and the safety of her mother’s womb.
As Cora, Heather Quinn has the harder role by far, as she may not outshine royalty. She comes across as the consummate professional, understated in speech and manner, conservative and drab in her muted mauve woolens. Some of her lines are lost to a too-muted tone, yet she sparks with an odd mix of humanity and condescension when faced with the hard facts of May’s life in a gilded cage. “How many countries are there in Africa?” she commands with predictable English superiority, “and they’re all unpronounceable, unimprovable and soaked in their own blood.”
Blessing holds an uncomfortable mirror of superiority up to his audience. This production resonates with truth in words, action and fine attention to detail. “Lying badly is punishable by death” where May is from, so trust me when I say this production is one of Colonial’s finest. The run is short, so make reservations before the teapot is drained.
Director and set designer: Edd Miller. Costumes: Beth Terranova. Lights: Harvey Hack. Sound: Wes Bedsworth. Stage manager: Herb Elkin.
Playing thru May 19 at 8pm ThFSa; 2pm Su; 7:30pm May 13 at Colonial Players, 108 East St., Annapolis. $20 w/discounts: 410-268-7373; email@example.com.