A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Mar 11, 2011
When a woman becomes a mother, certain things are expected of her. She will love her child unconditionally, protect to no end, put his or her needs before her own.
What if she fails?
Cora Gage is a surgeon who’s crafted a safe life in the English town of St. Ives following the death of her young son. It’s in her proper sitting room that she meets May N’Kame, the mother of an African dictator who’s come to see her about an eyesight problem.
Almost immediately, the conversation moves beyond pleasantries and into what each seeks from the other: Cora asks for May’s help getting her colleagues released from the unnamed central African country. May wants Cora to help her kill her son, who’s responsible for thousands of murders.
That each needs the other, that each is a mother contemplating the death of her child—and the love, guilt, responsibility and regret that inextricably come with it—establishes a compelling duality that’s carried through this play by Lee Blessing.
In Cora’s home, May has control. She presses the doctor for details about her son she doesn’t want to share and forces her past her repulsion over the idea of taking rather than aiding life.
Later, after Cora has provided May with poison and the dictator is gone, the two are together in May’s dusty garden in Africa. Here, Cora is the aggressor, pushing May to flee the country rather than face torture and death.
But May won’t leave. While killing her son was hardly straightforward, she feels she’s failed most in not doing it sooner; so many people died when her son lived.
The play creates an interesting exploration of responsibility: Should May have killed her son earlier? Should she not have intervened at all? Should Cora have helped? Would it have been more inhumane not to help?
And, further: Are such questions limited only to these two mothers? Or are they everyone’s responsibility? As May says toward the end of the play, “Half the world turns its back while the other half bleeds and dies.”
Thanks to the strength of the cast—Colleen Madden as Cora and Olivia Dawson as May—answers don’t come easy. Instead, the actors allow for connections to be made between the personal and the political, the inward and outward, and the way a wordless agreement can change much more than two women’s lives.
Going to St. Ives runs through March 19 at Overture Center. For more information, visit forwardtheater.com.
Photo by Zane Williams.