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By |2005-01-19T09:00:00-05:00January 19th, 2005|Entertainment|

Review: ‘Going to St. Ives’

Lost hopes drive determined women

By John Quinn
“Kits, cats, sacks and wives/How many are going to St. Ives?”
So ends the old rhyme that inspired the title of Lee Blessing’s tension-filled play, “Going To St. Ives,” which is enjoying a fine outing at Detroit Repertory Theatre. And I’m not answering the riddle, children; you’ll have to work that out for yourselves.
British doctor Cora Gage is about to perform the laser surgery necessary to alleviate glaucoma in May N’Kame, mother of the self-proclaimed god-emperor of an unnamed shard of British colonialism in Africa. Cora hosts May in the drawing room of her home in St. Ives before the operation – she is negotiating for a favor. May’s tyrant son is holding four doctors as enemies of the state, and Cora hopes to negotiate their release.
That’s easier said than done. May is no push-over in negotiation, and the first act is a marvel of symmetry. Blessing reveals that the women have more in common than race, upbringing or nationality would imply. May, too, has a favor to ask – one that is really appalling.
Blessing explores themes as contrasting as personal responsibility played out in the bigger context of political science, to the extent – and limits – of a mother’s love for her child. It is disappointing that he could not carry the multi-layered tension of his first act into an equally fascinating second. Set in May’s home in Africa, the second act is largely her rationalizing monologue, with Cora reduced to reaction and interjection. The balance is lost; the debate, while more important plot-wise, is not as interesting.
The Detroit Rep production is a happy union of three talented women, backed up by first-rate technical work. Director Barbara Busby is one of the founders of the Rep and has been directing since its inception in 1957. Her taut reading enlivens the characters’ sparring; we get a taste of the motivations driving them and we are eager for the next bite.
Charity Clark as May and Leah Smith as Cora give memorable performances. Their performances are understated and true; the emotions are all the more obvious in the characters’ restraint.
Yet, without dissing the ladies, a good part of that memory is the insightful costuming by Judy Dery. She contrasts the terribly proper Cora, here quite the drab English wren, with May, clothed in dazzling patterns of primary colors. Not to be outdone, Harry Wetzel provides two striking, contrasting sets, Cora’s St Ives drawing room and the dusty garden of May’s African “home.” Director, actresses and designers each support the playwright’s themes of similarity and contrast.
“Going to St. Ives” plays Thu.-Sun. at Detroit Repertory Theatre, Detroit, through Mar. 19. Tickets: $17. For information: 313-868-1347 or http://www.detroitreptheatre.com.
{The Bottom Line: Yet another small work that examines big issues, Detroit Rep’s production is an admirable addition to the theater season.}

Preview: ‘Father Bingo’

World premiere musical features Original Vandellas

By Donald V. Calamia
A priest. A mayor. God. And a girl.
No, it’s not the opening line of a bad joke. Rather, it’s who theatergoers can expect to see in the world premiere of “Father Bingo,” a Detroit-based musical that opens Feb. 10 at Detroit’s Music Hall.
It’s an event that Director Debbie Lannen somewhat laughingly says, “could mean I’ll work forever or I’ll never work again!”
The musical – written and composed by Dearborn Heights resident Bill Nilsson – tells the story of an anti-gambling priest who is trying to save his Detroit parish from closing because of financial woes; a feisty Detroit mayor who’s trying to save his city with casino gambling; a woman looking for love; and a Deity who seems to be holding all of the cards.
“I like the fact that it’s a family show,” Lannen said of the old-fashioned musical. “It’s fun. You can come, enjoy, sit back, have a good time and go home laughing. There’s nothing objectionable in it.”
Crafting an original production from scratch has been a challenge, the director admitted. “It’s not like picking up a script that’s already been done. We’ve had some obstacles to overcome, but we’re right on schedule.”
Casting the show’s 23 roles, however, wasn’t a problem for Lannen, a 15-year veteran director who stages outreach programs for the Michigan Opera Theatre. “These were by far the best auditions I’ve ever had. So casting was very simple. It pretty much cast itself.”
Lannen is especially pleased to have two Motown legends in her production. “When I was looking for my two Bingo Mamas, Rick [Beyer, the executive producer] said, ‘If you could have anyone you wanted, who would it be?’ My immediate response was, ‘The Original Vandellas’ – thinking we’d never in a million years get them.”
But a few phone calls later, Rosalind Ashford Holmes and Annette Sterling Helton were on board – albeit a little hesitantly, since neither had ever been in a play. “We’ve sat and watched plays, and we always said, ‘We could do that,'” laughed Holmes. “But we never thought we’d actually do it!”
“We only thought in terms of sitting on a stool, backstage, in our jeans, in front of a microphone, just doing some harmonies,” added Helton. “But that’s as far as it went.”
Instead, the two will be onstage playing several roles. “We’re angels. We’re BLONDE angels. With wings,” Helton chuckled. “Now THAT’S going to be different!”
Performing in front of an audience is old hat to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, of course. “It’s just a wee-bit different with the choreography,” Holmes said. “But it’s so much fun.”
Helton agreed. “We’re a little anxious, but I think once we hit the stage – and if we get ANY applause – then we’ll be okay!”
Amen! Or should I say: BINGO!
“Father Bingo” opens for a limited run Fri., Feb. 10 – Sun., Feb. 12 at Detroit’s Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets: $19-$49. For information: 313-887-8501 or http://www.fatherbingo.net.

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.