Upstream Theatre’s “Forget Me Not” Is Hard To Forget

Jerry Vogel and Donna Weinsting in a particularly moving scene from the second act of "Forget Me Not" at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Jerry Vogel and Donna Weinsting in a particularly moving scene from the second act of “Forget Me Not” at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Like most plays at Upstream Theatre, Tom Holloway’s “Forget Me Not” presents the audience with issues that are new, often shocking and offers interesting challenges and more than one plot twist that will take your breath away. Add four premiere performances and outstanding direction and you’ve got a typical night at the theatre- Upstream style.

A little known fact (actually unknown to me) involves the migration of more than 3,000 small children from several countries- particularly Britain- to Australia during the post war years and up until the 1960’s. They came from families who were broken, troubled or who the government deemed were not able to take care of the young people- some as old as three or four. The children were told that the parents were dead and they were going to a better life. The parents were told that the children would be much better off and may even return some day. Of course, none of this was true and the children were forced to work on farms under miserable conditions. “Forget Me Not” is a story of one of these children, Gerry, who is now in his sixties and who we see as the play opens visiting his real mother in England.

Jerry Vogel and Maggie Conroy in a scene from Upstream's "Forget Me Not." Photo: Peter Wochniak

Jerry Vogel and Maggie Conroy in a scene from Upstream’s “Forget Me Not.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Both mother and son are nervous and use halting speech as they try to communicate and cross the years- neither really sure of what the other thinks of this unusual reunion. Gerry is at times angry, at times hesitant but obviously curious. The mother, Mary, isn’t sure how to approach her long-lost son even though she has always celebrated his birthday without him and tries to be tender in her remembrances of their short time together. He, of course, can’t remember a thing. Jerry Vogel turns in another masterful performance as the uneasy Gerry. His dialogue with his mother, his daughter and even the government rep who is trying to reunite him with his mother all follow the same pattern of hesitation and distrust that has become a part of his disordered life in Australia. His eyes, which Mary describes as “still sparkling” as when he was a child in reality show more confusion and a wanting for the life that he has been cheated out of.

As Mary, Donna Weinsting shows her broad range as an actress as she tackles a much meatier role than we’ve seen in the mostly comedic roles she has tackled this past year. It’s a truly powerful and heart-wrenching portrayal but still leaves her with plenty of laughs to break up the rather heavy story. As the daughter, Sally, Maggie Conroy also delivers a top-notch performance. Years of trying to harness her fathers’ mood swings shows in her face and body movements as she never knows when the volcano might blow. Rounding out the cast is the versatile Terry Meddows as Mark- a mild mannered agent who is trying to arrange Gerry’s visit back to England now that he has learned the truth that his mother is not really dead. His straight-laced but emphatic nature offers a great contrast to Gerry’s bombastic tendencies.

Jerry Vogel and Terry Meddows confront each other in "Forget Me Not" at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Jerry Vogel and Terry Meddows confront each other in “Forget Me Not” at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

The second act offers a severe plot twist that holds true to the jumps in time we’ve been taking during the first act. But this one is a real game-changer and offers even more depth to this already tragic story based on these tragic real-life events that stirred Australian playwright Tom Holloway to write so lovingly and desperately about it. Upstream’s Artistic Director, Philip Boehm has directed with a keen eye to the often static yet meaningful dialogue that infuse all of the characters with this erratic blend of desperation and hope.

The spare Michael Heil scene design is perfect as the stage often looks too crowded for these people who are really thrown together unexpectedly and are often uncomfortable with the near lack of personal space. His dominant black and white photo of four happy children carrying their suitcases becomes the backdrop where an open door suddenly appears as the main entrance and exit for the various settings of the play. Along with a series of black and white photos encircling the base of the small stage, it gives us a good sense of the expectations that soon become dashed by reality. The fact that props appear in one scene and are left, seemingly unforgotten in the next scene also speaks volumes about the story. The Steve Carmichael lighting design and Christopher Limber’s sound also offer haunting undertones to the play.

Terry Meddows and Donna Weinsting in Upstream's "Forget Me Not." Photo: Peter Wochniak

Terry Meddows and Donna Weinsting in Upstream’s “Forget Me Not.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

“Forget Me Not” proves to be an unforgettable experience. The four superb actors resonate the stories of the thousands of children who were displaced and, in most cases, lost forever. It’s haunting theatre and that second act surprise can’t help but make it an even more meaningful production. “Forget Me Not” plays at the Upstream Theatre in the Kranzberg Arts Center through February 9th. Contact them at 314-863-4999 or at upstream theater.org for tickets or more information.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: