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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Going to St. Ives
By Laura Hitchcock

Lee Blessing works in miniatures, using plays with small casts to explore many dimensions. He's also unusually good at writing women.

These characteristics were apparent in Independence, which I first saw labbed at the Eugene O'Neill National Playwrights Conference in1983, and are combined in Going To St. Ives, which has enjoyed two simultaneous productions in Los Angeles this month. One was a staged reading taped by L. A. Theatre Works for its renowned audio collection. The other is running at The Fountain Theatre and stars Jacqueline Schultz as Dr. Cora Cage, a prominent English eye surgeon, and Esther Scott as May N'Kame, the mother of a monstrous Central African dictator, who has come to Cage for glaucoma surgery.

Cage feels responsible for the death of her seven-year-old son who is shot when she urges her husband to save time by driving through a dangerous neighborhood. This compounds her horror when May asks her for poison to kill her own son, thus saving thousands of victims from his torture and homicide.

Blessing uses these melodramatic elements to present themes of guilt, morality, responsibility. Despite the substance of the issues, particularly relevant in the light of today's headlines, we could be in soapy territory in less skillful hands. Fortunately director Simon Levy has found two powerful and sensitive actresses who can play the ends of the play's range without sagging in the middle, and he sees to it that the pace never lets up without rushing it.

Schultz has the chiseled blonde beauty of a classic Englishwoman and begins with a brisk authority which is swiftly punctured by Scott's sly omniscient shrewdness. A towering presence in exotic African robes, she is a mother who takes some living up to.

St. Ives, the village where Cora lives, is the subject of an English riddle poem, which queries how many are going to St. Ives and whose correct answer is one. The setting reinforces Blessing's theme that each of us bears responsibility and the way is a solitary journey. As he puts it,, "this nursery rhyme in which we live."

The classic Willow Pattern china, a staple of English tea tables, illustrates a Chinese fable of lovers who sacrifice themselves to die together. Although Cora is horrified when May accidentally breaks one of these teacups, a family heirloom, the china takes on an added resonance when Cora reveals in the last act that she discovered her garden was embedded with shards of this old china, used by builders in past centuries to mix with mortar. It's a wonderful image of ancestor worship revealed as discarded and utilized.

The second act takes place in May's African home. The two women, never friends, explore the bonds that enmesh them and the fate that lies before them. Cora wants to bring May to safety in England. May sees a greater and more spiritual safety for Cora in Africa.

The small stage of the Fountain heightens the intensity of the play. Sean McMullen shrewdly accentuates his set with a few vivid accessories.

Playwright: Lee Blessing
Director: Simon Levy
Cast: Jacqueling Schultz (Cora), Esther Scott (May)
Set Design: Sean McMullen
Lighting Design: Kathi O'Donohue
Costume Design: Naila Aladdin-Sanders
Sound Design: Kurt Thum
Running Time: Two and a half hours with one intermission
Running Dates: Tues, Weds, Thurs, May 1st closing has been extended to June 1
Fri, Sat at 8:00 PM, Sun at 2:00 through June 1
Where: The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Avenue, Hollywood, ph: (323) 663-1525
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on.April 3.
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