'Going to St. Ives' at Colonial Players has many layers

In "Going to St. Ives," Colonial Players offers a powerful story about two women becoming acquainted over tea — a discussion that touches on dictatorships in post-colonial Africa while offering insights into the plight of two grieving mothers reminiscent of classic Greek drama.

The first act of Lee Blessing's drama is set near Cambridge, England, where two powerful women meet. World-renowned British eye surgeon Dr. Cora Gage has invited May N'Kame, empress of an African country ruled by her ruthless son, for a consultation to consider the benefits of laser treatment for glaucoma.

Their conversation reveals social differences and conflicting agendas as the women confront deeper issues. Each reveals hidden motives in seeking the other's favors. Cora wants May to help free four doctors imprisoned by May's son. May wants Cora to help end her son's tyrannical rule, which triggers a profound moral dilemma with political reverberations.

Colonial Players' veteran director Edd Miller brings a driving intensity to this production, motivating audiences to open their minds to the deplorable conditions chronic in Africa and largely ignored by most of us.

Miller also brings a visual authenticity to Colonial Players' production from the beginning, in the serene setting depicting the English ritual of tea. Here it is, complete with cups of tea being drunk from prized blue willow china secured through the efforts of CP properties designer Lois Banscher in her third venture working with Miller. As Miller says in his director's notes, "It takes a community to stage a play. Community theater is a coming together of a diverse group working together to create a special art form."

Most importantly, Miller has found two gifted actors to become Blessings' unforgettable characters striving to alter their destiny and the fates of others.

Lolita-Marie summons an immediate majesty as May — stunning in a cobalt blue-and-white patterned costume with jewel-like accents. A noted detail is that her costume beautifully complements the blue willow china. During the performance, Lolita-Marie appears in two other authentic African costumes — one suitable for an empress at leisure and another appropriate for any mother. Speaking in a beguiling accent, her every word is weighted with profound meaning and restrained emotion. She commands our attention as she articulates her request for Dr. Gage's assistance in procuring a poison to end her tyrannical son's cruel regime.

May gradually reveals her humanity as she tosses off joking remarks to allow a glimpse of the woman beneath the regal facade. In the second act, six months have passed and the scene has shifted to a simply furnished room in central Africa where May is being held after the death of her son. She remains a highly intelligent woman of unshakable convictions, who is now capable of expressing affectionate respect for Cora Gage.

Blessing's engrossing drama requires two equally gifted actors to be locked in battle before recognizing the commonality of their similar goals. Cora is the mother of a boy who died at age 7 a few years before the play takes place, and May is the mother of a middle-age man. Cora is white, May is black, and they come from vastly different cultures and experiences.

Heather Quinn appeared in "Two Rooms" a few seasons back and has also graced other CP productions before taking on the challenging role of Dr. Cora Gage, which she describes as "providing another vantage point to try to learn, understand and reflect."

Quinn is entirely convincing as a revered eye surgeon who cautiously weighs each decision. A gracious hostess, Cora is also reserved when revealing details about the death of her son, as she gradually unravels her own feelings of guilt at having persuaded her husband to take a shortcut down a dangerous street to reach a basketball game on time.

Grappling with May's request in return for her own, Quinn's Cora gradually recognizes their common goals and shared pain as mothers. These well-matched adversaries are drawn together in a plot of political and social ramifications. Of contrasting appearances — with Cora preferring subdued earth tones and May more flamboyant colors — both women gain respect and affection for each other.

In the second act, in which we find Cora has traveled to Africa on a life-or-death mission to take May home with her, both engage in an affectionate final conflict where Cora confesses that May has changed her life.

They may change our lives as well as they persuade us to broaden our horizons to consider contemporary African culture.

"Going to St. Ives," which has been showing Thursday through Sunday at Colonial Players Theater, 108 E. St. in Annapolis, completes its run on Saturday, May 19. Call 410-263-5625 for tickets.

Opera season ending

Annapolis Opera concludes its current season with two fully staged productions of Charles Gounod's "Romeo and Juliet," conducted by Ron Gretz, and starring soprano Megan Hart as Juliet and Michael Wade Lee as Romeo. Sung in French with English supertitles, the opera will be presented at Maryland Hall at 8 p.m. Friday, May 18, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 20. For tickets, call 410-280-5640 or go to annapolisopera.org.

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