MY MOTHER SAID I NEVER SHOULD, Center Theater Ensemble. Now that it has expanded its acting component and added various directors, designers, and playwrights to the company, Center Theater is changing its name, to Center Theater Ensemble. That emphasis on collaboration is well illustrated in the current production, Charlotte Keatley’s My Mother Said I Never Should, an examination of four generations of English working-class mothers and daughters. This could easily have been soap opera (with a dash of feminist salt) if it weren’t for the delicacy with which it’s been handled on all levels.

Geoffrey M. Curley’s versatile set (with the help of Chris Phillips’s lighting) takes us from a prim World War II home, where the proper matron Doris rules over her daughter Margaret, to a 1960s cold-water flat, where Doris’s grandchild, Jackie, must give up her own baby girl. Bare branches curve gracefully over all, suggesting a tender entrapment as each woman struggles to free herself from the influence of the women who came before. Joe Cerqua’s original music is as haunting as a long-ago lullaby, and Lynn Sandberg’s costumes not only capture the periods between 1940 and 1987 but subtly express each woman’s outlook on life.

The script is too long, dragging out the inevitable disclosure of a secret, and there are too many surreal forays into girl-child games, viewed here as dark rituals tinted with magic. But this quartet of actresses, under director Dan La Morte’s light touch, breeze through the melodrama and make the most of the power games between mothers and daughters. Jealousy marches hand in hand with love, and loyalties are tested as each generation faces society’s shifting expectations. Monica Mary McCarthy, Juliet Cella, Kimberly Berg, and Marlene DuBois (who moves from ingenue to matriarch with breathtaking ease) spin sensitive, intriguing performances around one another, splendidly rounding out this Center Theater Ensemble collaboration.