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Going to St. Ives

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Lee Blessing, a fine but somewhat underrated playwright, has an important new play, Going to St. Ives, which cannot be overrated. A two-hander, it begins with May N’Kame, the mother of a bloody African dictator, coming to St. Ives, near Cambridge, for a delicate operation by a famous eye surgeon, Dr. Cora Gage. It soon emerges that May is after something even more delicate that I must not divulge. All I can say is that Act Two takes place in Central Africa, but that the play’s impact and import are central enough to go way beyond Africa and England. It is concerned with numerous moral and political matters touching on issues as urgent as they are universal.

Blessing is good at this sort of duodrama, as he proved with A Walk in the Woods, dealing with the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Here the chief concern is what I’ll call the Cold Peace, whereby the West, including ophthalmologists, is blind to Third World genocide. But the play deals also with any number of personal problems. Well directed by Maria Mileaf, it is superlatively acted by L. Scott Caldwell and Vivienne Benesch and is both serious and amusing, diverting and dramatic. If you want to be a stickler, you could argue that there is a slightly schematic symmetry to it, but it would be foolish to forgo such rare entertainment for the sake of picking a nit or two.

By Lee Blessing
At Primary Stages
Through April 24


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