When one considers the issue of child migration, the movement of large numbers of unaccompanied minors from one nation to another, it is most frequently in the context of war, famine or other extreme conditions. Rarely discussed is the shipping of children in order to boost racial or ethnic balance, or to provide cheap labor, and the impact it had on the children and their families.
The policy of child migration for non-humanitarian reasons is disturbing; the fact that some of these children were, literally, stolen from their families is tragic and appalling. Director Philip Boehm steadily guides this fascinating and compelling production, keeping the focus clearly on the story and actors.
Jerry Vogel turns in a moving and deeply effective performance as Gerry, a man broken by years of servitude and physical abuse. The only child of an unwed mother, he was shipped to Australia just after World War II, at the age of four or five. Gerry struggles with alcohol abuse, anger control, and a tendency towards violence, as well as being generally distrustful of others and their motivations.
When Mark, a representative of an agency providing assistance to the now adult children, reaches out to him, Gerry's initial reaction is dismissive. It is only at the insistence of his daughter Sally that Gerry meets with the agent. The resulting revelations are incredible and, at the same time, immensely painful.
Vogel fills his performance with a nervous energy that infuses the production with raw emotion and uncertainty. His Gerry is complex and not always likeable, but he's also honest. There were times when, as a member of the audience, I felt as confused and agitated as Gerry himself, a true testament of Vogel's ability to connect with the character.
Gerry's relationship with daughter Sally is tenuous at best, and Maggie Conroy is superb in the role. Her Sally has ticks and nervous gestures reflecting her father's influence, but is grounded with steely resolve and determination. She is hurt and distrustful of her father, but, emotionally speaking, she needs to heal their rift to right herself. The bond between the two is intense and dangerously strained, and Vogel and Conroy impressively navigate these changing currents.
Donna Weinsting, as Gerry's mother, gives a wrenching performance as a woman desperately missing her son, and clinging to the belief that his life was bettered by their separation. Weinsting's reaction to learning her son's fate is physical and emotional, a quietly powerful moment essay writer steeped in sorrow. The scenes in which she and Gerry are reunited are bittersweet and heartbreaking, filled with hesitation and the hollow ache of a profound loss.
As the sympathetic agent, Terry Meddows turns in a touching performance, his character the embodiment of a capable and caring bureaucrat. It is a warm and ultimately sympathetic portrayal, helping to provide hope that reconciliation and forgiveness, if not reunion, may be possible. The simple, practical set and straightforward technical design serve the show well, and the photographs on the platform apron thoughtfully reinforce the social issue without distracting from the performance.
Upstream Theater's powerful drama "Forget Me Not," running through February 16, 2014 at the Kranzberg Arts Center in Grand Center, brings to light the disturbing history of child migration in a truly compelling show. For tickets or more information, visit www.upstreamtheater.org.