By Rebecca Frank
Poison, murder and genocide are not usually considered polite tea-time topics, but Lee Blessing’s Going to St. Ives broke taboos. Directed by Elgin Martin ’17, Going to St. Ives is about an African empress, May N’Kame, portrayed by Asha McAllister ’15. She is sent to England by her son, the unjust dictator of her country, in order to receive eye surgery; there, she meets a doctor, Cora Gage, played by Natasha Preston ’17. The play centers around the conversations of these two women. Gage wants N’Kame to release four doctors her son has imprisoned, and N’Kame attempts to get Gage to aid her in poisoning her son. With such heavy topics, the show was a lot to take on, but Martin, McAllister and Preston proved they were up to the task.
McAllister was impressive in her role as N’Kame. She portrayed the regalness of her character well, using many small touches such as always keeping rigid posture and using a calculated voice. She was also excellent at using subtleties to show her character’s tactics in getting Gage to agree to her plan, intimidating her with a slight change in tone or a slow advance on a certain line. She displayed her character’s emotional transition from the first to the second act admirably, clearly becoming more resigned yet still determined not to leave her country despite being sentenced to death after killing her son.
Preston, too, was commendable in her role as Dr. Gage. She portrayed well the many transitions of her character, from calm and polite to more emotional and angry to, finally, much stronger and more calculated in the second act as she attempts to convince N’Kame to return to England with her. Her emotional and tragic story about her son’s death was affecting, and her facial expressions made it seem that she was reliving every moment as she told it.
Putting on the show in Weaver Cottage made for a wonderfully intimate production; only two rows of chairs circled the room, surrounding the center area, which acted as the stage. The actors made use of several of the features of the cottage, looking out of its windows and exiting through its doors. These factors made the play feel that much more poignant because the audience felt like they were in the same room as the characters. The costumes, too, were noteworthy: McAllister wore beautiful and colorful traditional African dress that made clear her royal status, while Preston’s blouse, skirt and tied-back hair in the first scene contrasted nicely with McAllister’s clothing and reflected Preston’s character’s careful and put-together attitude.
Going to St. Ives was quite affecting and enjoyable. McAllister and Preston handled with poise its discussions of race and how citizens of developed countries think about developing countries. The show left me thinking about it long after it ended, largely thanks to McAllister and Preston’s performances.