Going to St. Ives by Lee Blessing. Directed by Tyler Marchant.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Gretchen Egolf and Myra Lucretia Taylor; photo: Scott Barrow
"You must be ready to pay the price."
The power-punch of great Greek tragedy pervades the second act of Lee Blessingís play "Going to St. Ives." Once inhabiting the imperial palace of a small central African nation, May NíKame is now under house arrest in a small home there, surrounded by rough-hewn benches and slat-covered windows. Her one fine dress, the only one left to her, hangs on a clothesline while she wanders about in a simple, hemp-colored frock made of rough wool. Her tea service is all mis-matched pieces. She awaits her fate.
When she is confronted in this situation Mayís demeanor and attitude are bright and brittle, much more friendly than during her visit to Cora Gageís home in St. Ives, Cambridge, England six months and one act earlier. However, when she opens up her heart and confesses her life to her visitor that sense of ancient theater starts its build and you sit, riveted to your seat as the actress in the character, or perhaps the character in the actress, captures the stage, its edge, and the audience in the darkness beyond in the spell of her monologue. This is great acting in great writing and it digs its falcon-talons deep within your heart and threatens never to let go.
Myra Lucretia Taylor plays May NíKame in the Barrington Stage Company production of Blessingís play currently inhabiting Stage 2 in Pittsfield. Taylor is the essence of the absence of soul in the first act and its inverse in the second act. Her character goes from imperious and demanding to defeated and rejoicing in this play. She runs the gamut from British outcast child to Clytemnestra in under two hours and she does it with a naturalness that is sometimes startling. Watching her journey through the deep valleys and highest hills is an extraordinary event. She goes from unpleasant in Act One (donít leave at intermission) to enthralling in Act Two.
She is accompanied in this transitory event by Gretchen Egolf in the role of Dr. Cora Gage. Cora is superbly English, brittle and affected, harboring secrets that will not come to the fore. She is a gracious hostess, an honored physician, a perfect wife. Egolf embodies all of this easily in Act One. In the second half of the show, six months later, she is a wildcat, a virago in the making. She has developed passion, lost her purity and her sense of the divine, and comes on the scene with a sense of mission holding her in its grasp. Egolf is brilliant in both ends of Coraís world. Described by May as colorless, she is actually a million colors spinning too fast to be anything other than beige. Yet under that simplicity there is complexity and the actress has found her way into this and brought out the secret maroons and chartreuses, the primary and secondary colors.
Tyler Marchant has controlled his actresses beautifully giving them each their head when needed and guiding them into the private spaces each of the characters requires at times. His staging is superb, physical only when absolutely necessary, primarily intellectual and devoted to each oneís cultural habits. In the second act when Coraís desperation becomes evident he allows the women to connect in many ways, including physical, and the alteration in their relationship dictates all that follows. This is a sensitive eye and ear leading the blind, deaf and dumb into an I-Max theater for the ride of their lives.
Brian Pratherís inventive set is evocative without being overwhelming, working for both environments perfectly. Kristina Sneshkoff has created costumes that perfectly define the women. Scott Pinkney has displayed subtle alterations to highlight mood and sensibilities with his fine lighting work here. Allison Smarttís sound design work aids and abets the theatrical settings well.
Youíre not necessarily going to love this play, but you will never forget the impact of the tragic traditions in a modern setting. Mothers and their sons are the theme in this play, perfectly classical, and women at the point of guns, providing their own sort of poisonous weapons in defense of their own honest futures provide the plot-drivers. One thing is certain, "Going to St. Ives" is not a childrenís poem you are likely to want to recite ever again...not without a grin and a grimace.
Going to St. Ives plays at Barrington Stage Companyís Stage 2, located at 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield, MA through July 9. For tickets and information call the box office at 413-236-8888.