Saturday, February 8, 2014

FORGET ME NOT • Upstream Theater

Artistic director Philip Boehm has carved out a unique niche for Upstream Theater, finding and producing moving and thought-provoking plays from all over the world. This eloquently potent U.S. debut is no exception, and was greeted with a sold-out house on opening night.

Child migration, the appalling practice of rounding up children and shipping them off to different regions, was undertaken by several countries for varying bureaucratic motivations for decades. These kids where often told that they were orphans when they were not, and led to believe that they were going to start promising new lives with loving families, but in reality faced harsh conditions in brutal work camps.

Jerry Vogel (Gerry).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
Gerry (Jerry Vogel) was transported from his working-class home in England to Australia when he was four years old, and has hardly any recollection of life with his single mother Mary (Donna Weinsting). He's now a fifty-something year old widower, and his shaken identity and unstable roots have left him with psychological bruises, social ineptness, and a serious drinking problem. His devoted daughter Sally (Maggie Conroy) struggles to understand him and forgive his hurtful behavior, having to resort to locking him up in the house during the day when she's at work. She hopes that Mark (Terry Meddows), a social worker from a family restoration organization, can help reunite Gerry with his mother in Liverpool. Mary hasn't had an easy time of it either. Still living in the same house for most of her life, she clings to the hope that her boy, then called George, taken without her consent, has been given a good life with a good family.

Philip Boehm directs this play perfectly, though playwright Tom Holloway's already forceful drama throws the audience off-balance with heart-breaking twists in the second act. Still, the cast, each achieving the full depths of their roles, make this play very, very moving. I began to harbor a secret crush on Vogel when I last saw him in Upstream's "An Iliad", and he is once again remarkable here as Gerry.
Jerry Vogel (Gerry) and Donna Weinsting (Mary).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
A product of an environment where the needs and welfare of the children were ignored, Vogel is as volatile as he is sympathetically pitiful -- uncomfortably awkward in the initial meetings with Mary, becoming overwhelmed with the choice of which chair to sit in, and contentious and threatening in his interactions with the social worker -- able to convey volumes without saying a word. Weinsting is outstanding in the role of Mary. She provides welcome laughs laced with a lingering sadness in her scenes with Mark, and is affecting in the disconnectedly anxious, lopsided memories she shares with Gerry. Conroy takes her father to task when we first meet her, but genuinely softens with the hope that he'll be able to be made whole again.  Meddows rounds out the cast in a small but fully portrayed Mark. Despite the challenges, he's as devoted to trying to help his client as Gerry's own daughter is.

Jerry Vogel (Gerry) and Maggie Conroy (Sally).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
Michael Heil's scenic design includes only a few pieces of furniture against a black and white photo backdrop of children with suitcases, wearing expressions on their faces that suggest an apprehensive excitement. Christopher Limber's sound design punctuates throughout and Steve Carmichael's subtle lighting design and Bonnie Kruger's costume design contribute nicely.

This show will give you plenty to discuss on the way home.  Or not.  Actually, it's just as well I went to the show alone -- I was a little too stunned to say much afterwards anyway. Go see it.  

Jerry Vogel (Gerry) and Terry Meddows (Mark).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak

Written by Tom Holloway
Directed by Philip Boehm
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through February 16 | tickets: $20 - $30
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm, February 16 3pm only

Donna Weinsting* (Mary), Jerry Vogel (Gerry), Maggie Conroy* (Sally) and Terry Meddows (Mark).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Michael Heil; costume design by Bonnie Kruger; lighting design by Steve Carmichael; sound design by Christopher Limber; prop design by Claudia Mink Horn; stage manager, Patrick Siler.

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