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    Death of a diva

    "Hospice" borrows surprisingly from Puccini's "Madame Butterfly" to tell the moving story of a bitter mother dying of cancer and the estranged daughter who has to care for her.


    Pearl Cleage's "Hospice" explores the complicated relationship of an African-American mother and daughter, but in a strange twist, opens with a performance of "The Flower Duet" from Puccini's "Madame Butterfly." In the scene, the title character (Michelle Palmer) anticipates the return of her lover, a U.S. Navy lieutenant who impregnated and abandoned her years before. With the help of her maid Suzuki (Leonarda Priore), Butterfly prepares for the reunion by grooming herself and spreading blossoms about the house. The women wait in hope, but the lieutenant does not arrive.

    Written by: Pearl Cleage.
    Directed by: Bernice Rohret, Dodi Protero.
    Cast: Nicole Cosby, Joyce Griffen, Michelle Palmer, Yvette Vanterpool, Leonarda Priore, Nina Fine.
    Theater at St. Peter's Church
    346 West 20th St.
    May 2 - June 1, 2002

    The operatic introduction sets an appropriate tone for the remainder of Cleage's tale of expectations never met. It is 1983 and, after 20 years of living a bohemian life as a poet in Paris, Alice Anderson has returned to her childhood home in Detroit. Terminally ill and ravaged by cancer, Alice is tended to by Jenny, the daughter she abandoned when the girl was 10. Now single and pregnant, Jenny tries desperately to establish a relationship with her mother, and shares painful tales of growing up in the shadow of a revered literary figure she barely knew.

    Alice is initially tight-lipped about her past and refuses to become the nurturing mother that Jenny always longed for. Angry and in pain, she communicates through wisecracks and biting remarks. After ingesting a combination of sweet wine and painkillers, Alice reveals that she fled to Paris to find herself, escape a life of domesticity, and pursue her dream of becoming a published poet. Having achieved success and come full-circle, she is now confronted with her decision and a daughter desperate to make the most of what little time they have left together.

    The themes are heavy but the show is a joy to watch, thanks to Joyce Griffen's portrayal of steely-yet-vulnerable Alice and Erica Cosby's portrayal of vulnerable-yet-steely Jenny. Dodi Protero's "Madame Butterfly" intro works amazingly well as a complement to Alice and Jenny's story. If a moving off-off-Broadway drama is what you've been waiting for, "Hospice" will certainly meet your expectations.

    MAY 30, 2002

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