A woman wracked with guilt over the unintentional role she has played in her son’s accidental death. A woman tormented by having given birth to a murderous son. These two mothers meet, with life-changing consequences, in Lee Blessing’s powerful two-hander Going To St. Ives, the latest from Hollywood’s illustrious Actors Co-op.
The mother of a monstrous African dictator, May N’Kame (Inger Tudor) has journeyed to the Cambridge, England-adjacent St. Ives cottage of ophthalmologist Cora Gage (Nan McNamara) for emergency laser surgery to save her eyesight and relieve the excruciating headaches caused by acute closed-angle glaucoma.
Over the course of civilized conversation, precisely the kind one would expect in an English country cottage, certain facts come to light.
Cora’s seven-year-old son was shot to death two years ago, the inadvertent consequence of his mother’s having suggested to the boy’s father that they take a side street through a dangerous Los Angeles neighborhood on the way to a basketball game.
May’s son has, in the years since becoming the Idi Amin-like dictator of his central African “empire,” sentenced countless of his countrymen to increasingly horrific deaths, his mother a silent witness to the evil wrought by her offspring on a daily basis.
Cora agrees to perform the surgery on one condition, that May intervene on behalf of the four doctors her son has sentenced to death for having refused to keep torture victims alive for further torture.
May seems willing to accede to Cora’s wish on one condition, that the physician return the favor by violating the oath she took upon becoming a doctor to “first do no harm.”
This is powerful stuff indeed, particularly from a Christian-based theater company whose subscribers might be presumed to prefer their evening’s entertainment touched by an angel rather than by an archangel of murder at its most sadistic.
Then again, Actors Co-op isn’t your average, everyday Christian-based theater company, as recent productions of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and Long Day’s Journey Into Night (and Co-op Too! stagings of Rabbit Hole and Days And Wine And Roses) have made abundantly clear.
In its examination of “what constitutes the greater good” and “how this conundrum informs our ethical and moral code and that of our society” (the words are those of Actors Co-op’s executive committee members Beth Castle, Shea Scott Edwards, Matthew Gilmore, Brian Habicht, Mac Heald, and Gerrie Maloof), Going To St. Ives is sure to provide ample food for discussion at post-matinee talkbacks moderated by local theological leaders.
At the same time, even theatergoers of a more secular bent will find Blessing’s 1996 drama (not seen locally since the Fountain staged it in 2003) an intellectually stimulating conversation starter on the ride home.
Actors Co-op treasure McNamara has won Best Lead Actress Scenies for her extraordinary work in Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Wit, and she is once again superb as the veddy, veddy English Cora, and though Theatre Of NOTE member Tudor seems scarcely old enough to have a teenage dictator as her son, she too is absolutely magnificent—and regal to boot, both actresses investing their characters with fire and ice and everything in between under the pitch-perfect direction of Linda Kerns.
The Crossley Theatre’s thrust stage places makes audience members flies on the walls of Cora’s cottage and May’s garden, both sets expertly rendered by Sets To Go’s Mark Henderson and Tim Farmer. (I’d still like to suggest that the Co-op increase the raking of side seating to improve Crossley sight lines.) Costume designer Vicki Conrad gives each woman three just-right outfits to wear, May’s Act One, Scene Two gown a particularly gorgeous stunner. Bill E. Kickbush’s lighting design, Lori Berg’s props (especially the Willow Pattern china), and Warren Davis’s surround-sound design are all topnotch as well. Jill Massie has coached McNamara and Tudor on their spot-on English and African accents.
Going To St. Ives is produced by Catherine Gray. Leticia Gonzalez is stage manager and James Ledesma assistant stage manager.
Having attended Actors Co-op productions regularly for over fifteen years now, I can declare without equivocation that there is no finer company of actors, directors, and designers in Los Angeles. Going To St. Ives gives L.A. theatergoers Actors Co-op at their very best. Need I say more?
Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood.
February 28, 2014
Photos: Lindsay Schnebly