Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, August 2002
Even though Black Sheep was an imperfect play, it was intriguing enough that I jumped at the chance to see a local production of another play by Lee Blessing, Eleemosynary. Since this one boasted an all-female cast I was assured that no wet, naked, dead men would be presented to me.
Eleemosynary is a much better play than Black Sheep, and Lee Blessing is my new favorite playwright. Listening to his use of words — and Eleemosynary is about words as much as it is about the characters who utter them – I was reminded of my adolescent years of theatre-going when writers like Tom Stoppard and John Guare caught my ear and my eye and made me fall in love with the theatre.
In case you were wondering, the word eleemosynary is a synonym for benevolent. It means “1. Of, relating to, or dependent on, charity; 2. Contributed as an act of charity; gratuitous.” In the play, it is the word with which 13-year-old Echo (Alaina MacDonald) wins the National Spelling Bee. At the moment of her victory, she is convinced that she has proved her uniqueness and worth to her warring grandmother Dorothea (Gini Brosius) and mother Artemis or Artie (Lisa Remillard), and has succeeded in bringing them together for a long overdue reconciliation. She is mistaken, of course, in the way that only a young adolescent can be about such things, but the story of how the three generations of women arrive at that point and what happens to them afterwards is beautifully told. Dorothea and Artie never really reconcile, but Echo and Artie do, and in the process they reconcile themselves to Dorothea’s legacy in their lives.
Dorothea is a woman who feels the restrictions of the proscribed female role in America in the middle of the 20th century, until she meets a spiritualist at a cocktail party who informs her that no one can hold an eccentric responsible for his/her actions. Dorothea then “becomes eccentric the way some people become Lutheran” and she becomes equally determined that he daughter and granddaughter embrace the same philosophy that she found so freeing, even though times have changed, along with opportunities for women.
Director Bruce MacDonald has assembled a powerful cast at the Main Street Stage. Brosius conveys Dorothea’s hysterical determination well. You understand exactly what makes her so overbearing and monstrous to Artie, but she does not become equally annoying to you, the audience member. Remillard portrays the complex and tormented Artie in such a way that you forgive and understand her decision to abort one baby and abandon the next to Dorothea’s care. And 14-year-old Alaina MacDonald does some astonishingly good things as Echo. I am pleased to say that she still has some things to learn about acting, which is only right at her age, but what she already knows is quite impressive.
Main Street Stage operates on a small budget, and so you don’t go expecting extravagant production values, but Eleemosynary fits well in the company’s small space. Bruce MacDonald has designed a functional and attractive set that doesn’t occupy so much room that the actors are hampered in their movements. Frank La Frazia’s lighting is good, and Caroline Meyer-Young has costumed the women in a manner that evokes their generations and life-styles perfectly.
“Eleemosynary” runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through September 7 at the Main Street Stage, 57 Main Street, North Adams. The show runs about 90 minutes with no intermission and is suitable for ages 9 and up. Call the box office at 413-662-2323 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2002