This finely-acted, rhythmic production provides a poignant message about family relationships and the ties that bind.by Christopher Verleger, EDGE
“All women become their mothers. That is their tragedy,” wrote Oscar Wilde in “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
Artie (short for Artemis), the second of three generations of women represented in Lee Blessing’s insightful play, “Eleemosynary,” now showing DownStage at 2nd Story Theatre, is so determined to not turn into her mother, Dorothea, that she deliberately neglects her own daughter, Echo.
Dorothea (cagily portrayed by a playful Isabel O’Donnell), Artie’s mother, has suffered a stroke and can only hear her granddaughter’s voice. Artie (Sharon Carpentier, effectively stolid and evasive), an accomplished scientist who remembers everything to the most minor detail, never quite jelled with her eccentric, free-spirited mother, who often conversed with the dead and believed humans could fly.
When it becomes obvious her infant daughter, Echo (a fiery, tenacious Valerie Westgate), gravitates toward her grandmother, Artie jets off to California and entrusts Dorothea to raise her. Because of — or perhaps in spite of — her unconventional upbringing, Echo grows up to be a highly intelligent (albeit nervous and intense) young woman with an award-winning knack for spelling the most outlandish words.
Considering Artie chose her career over her daughter, one would naturally wonder what kind of woman could ever abandon her daughter, but the audience soon learns from the characters’ recollection and through a series of flashbacks that Dorothea was hardly mother of the century, and Echo, although still young and not for lack of trying, could use a lesson or two in propriety.
Courtesy of Mark Peckham’s attentive direction, the three actresses move purposefully and seamlessly on a tiny, dark stage, cluttered with books in the background. Most of the spoken words are addressed to the audience, reminiscent of testimony or a confessional, which helps to create a more private, intimate setting between the characters and those seated before them.
To call “Eleemosynary” a play or drama would not be entirely accurate, since there is no easily distinguishable plot and the delivery is more introspective than informative. In its brief 70-minute running time, this finely-acted, rhythmic production provides a poignant message about family relationships, maternal instinct (or the lack thereof) and the ties that bind.
Furthermore, and on a lighter note, the almost cacophonous litany of complex words muttered by Echo are certain to expand your vocabulary!