Story: Between 1945 and 1968, more than 3,000 British children, who were told that they were orphans, were transported to Australia under the guise of beginning a happy new life in a faraway land filled with opportunity. Unfortunately, in many cases those children were not orphans, but instead were taken from their homes by bureaucracies that perceived them to be problems for whatever reasons.
Gerry was one such child. Now, nearing age 60, he has come to the attention of an international agency that works to put those children from the past in touch with the families of their early childhood. Gerry has spent much of his life in Melbourne as an angry, alcoholic wretch, lashing out at his late wife and their tortured daughter, who has tried mightily to understand him.
When Mark, a social worker for the agency, contacts Gerry and tells him that his mother is alive in Liverpool, he sets in motion an emotional maelstrom for Gerry, Gerry’s daughter Sally and mother Mary as decades of uncertainty erupt in frustration and anticipation.
Highlights: Upstream Theater artistic director Philip Boehm regularly searches for scripts from around the world that meet his company’s mission for its audiences “to move you, and move you to think.” Such is the case with this two-act drama by playwright Tom Holloway, which had its world premiere last year and is receiving its American premiere in the current Upstream production.
Boehm and his thoroughly convincing and accomplished cast get to the heart of Holloway’s devastating story with powerful performances that resonate with aching authenticity.
Other Info: Having said that, it must be noted that Holloway’s first act is far superior to the shorter and stunningly disappointing second. His script, so remarkable and compelling initially, makes an abrupt, cheap turn in the second act that reminded me of the ‘dream’ season about Bobby Ewing on Dallas decades ago. Others, however, may find Holloway’s plot more satisfying.
Story possibilities aside, none of that detracts from some truly remarkable performances. As Gerry, Jerry Vogel beautifully conveys the rage and turmoil that have plagued Gerry for decades, made all the more heartbreaking with the revelation of a bureaucratic conspiracy. Imagine yourself in his position and you can only wonder about the hellish impact it would have on your own life, deprived not only of a family in your youth but also any certainty about who you are and where you’ve been.
Maggie Conroy is amazing as Gerry’s fatigued daughter, who has suffered her own angst in the midst of Gerry’s episodes of sarcasm and lashing out at anyone who tries to get close to him. Boehm makes good use of scenic designer Michael Heil’s stage to maintain frequent physical distance between father and daughter following their frequent verbal and emotional combat.
As Mary, Donna Weinsting is devastatingly sad as a simple and single English woman who has lived in the same house nearly all of her life, carrying the horrible memory of having her son taken from her “for his own good” and delivered, she was told, to a “loving family,” as if Mary could never satisfactorily provide for her child. Seeing Weinsting’s reactions to the arrival of Gerry following the shocking, initial contact by Mark to arrange the meeting, is poignancy and heartbreak at the highest emotional level.
Terry Meddows has the smallest role as the dutiful Mark, but he wonderfully captures the social worker’s dedication to his altruistic work, even when greeted with Gerry’s bizarre and uncooperative behavior, something he is all too familiar with in his job.
All four of the characters are dressed in costumes designed by Bonnie Kruger that clearly indicate their backgrounds, whether Gerry in dirty, dingy attire, Mark in a bland, short-sleeve shirt and tie, Mary in a frumpy sweater or Sally with her henna-colored hair.
Heil’s design is highlighted by a large, faded, black and white photo of four beaming children carrying suitcases en route to destinies they are told will be wonderful, before the grim reality will set in. That photo consumes the entire back wall, while small, black and white portraits align the bottom of Heil’s platform stage
Steve Carmichael’s incisive lighting, Claudia Mink Horn’s props and Christopher Limber’s sound design all effectively complement the action.
Holloway’s troublesome conclusion, which includes an unconvincing ending, may be problematic, but Upstream Theater’s presentation of Forget Me Not is accentuated with several truly impressive performances.
Play: Forget Me Not
Group: Upstream Theater
Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand
Dates: February 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, 16
Tickets: $20-$30; contact email@example.com
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of ProPhotoSTL.com
Watch HEC-TV's 'live' telecast of the second annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards ceremony on Monday, March 17, 2014 at COCA