Before the curtain Julianne Boyd, Artistic Director of Barrington Stage, was joking with the press about the dramatic difference between this serious piece and the fluffy fun of Guys and Dolls on the BSC Main Stage. A well balanced summer season should have chances for both light-hearted frivolity and thought-provoking drama, and Boyd has cleverly built an audience for with solid productions like Freud’s Last Session and The Whipping Man which tackled important issues like religion and race relations.
Going to St. Ives isn’t quite as good of a play as those two – it is more of a tell than a show – but under the direction of Tyler Marchant, with a gripping performance by Myra Lucretia Taylor, it is moving and provocative and well worth seeing. Americans as a rule do not think globally, and tend to ignore entire continents such as South America and Africa. Playwright Lee Blessing uses the universal emotions of motherhood to bring us face-to-face with important international issues.
The play consists of three encounters between Dr. Cora Gage (Gretchen Egolf), a white British eye surgeon of international renown, and May N’Kame (Taylor), the black mother of a despotic African dictator who needs her care. The two scenes of the first act are set at Cora’s home in St. Ives, a small village close to Cambridge, England. The last act takes place at the home in Africa where May is under house arrest. Blessing is very careful not to name the African nation which May’s son rules. In fact he himself is given no first name. In the last scene his face has been obscured on the political posters projected on the semi-circular wall at the back of Brian Prather’s spare set.