The word eleemosynary is not one that usually pops up in every day conversation. Saying it is one thing, but being able to spell it is quite another. Eleemosynary, is a favorite word of Echo, a young girl in the play of the same name which is currently running now through Oct. 29, 2016 at the John DeSotelle Studio NuBox Theater. Written by Lee Blessing, the play is an intense look at the relationships between three generations of women. It features a well-developed storyline and superb acting. All of this allows the audience to experience the journey that the three women are on as well as speaking directly to the emotions we all carry with us from our own life experiences.
ELEEMOSYNARY was first performed in 1985 in Minneapolis. Since then it has been performed in a variety of locations and theaters including a stop at Manhattan Theater Club. This version is directed by Alexandra Scordato, and it features a trio of female actors who give themselves over completely to their characters. The story is told through flashback scenes that intertwine with the actual time in which the play takes place.
Dorothea is a woman who had ideas about how she wanted to live her life that conflicted with the accepted norms for women of the time. After high school, she dreamed of going on to college. But she grew up in a time when women were supposed to marry as soon as possible and that is what awaits Dorothea. As a result, she feels lost until one day when she learns what the word “eccentric” means. She is so taken with that word that she adopts it to describe herself. And she does many things to live up to it including the way she raises her daughter, Artie. One very memorable scene shows Dorothea trying to get Artie to fly. Artie is wearing a set of wire and mesh wings and with her mother’s encouragement, is being told to go to a high ledge and jump off and fly. Mom tells her to believe she can fly and she will. The common sense that Artie has conflicts with her mother’s request and she wisely does not jump.
These types of conflicts occur throughout their lives resulting in communication breaking down. Always at the base is the expectation to be extraordinary particularly as articulated by Dorothea. Artie runs away to live her own life several different times. She graduates college, goes to graduate school, and eventually devotes her career to research which does impress mother Dorothea but that point is never really made clear to Artie until much later. She also marries and has a child who goes to live with her grandmother, Dorothea.
In many ways, the child, Echo, has some of the best characteristics of her mother and grandmother. She is very smart and she excels at spelling so much that she becomes a national champion. And yes the word “Eleemosynary” is key in the contest. However, even more important than her being smart, Echo understands both of the women in her life and she is able to communicate with them both. She becomes the bridge between Dorothea and Artie so that eventually, a form of forgiveness arrives to soothe some of the feelings of conflict.
The intensity of the journey to reach this bridging of the communication provides an audience with opportunities to see three women performing their roles in a manner that creates and shapes characters who are hard to forget. Marina Barry creates Dorothea in a high energy, enthusiastic format. Her Dorothea is lovely when she is with Echo and over the top in terms of having sense when dealing with Artie. She succeeds in creating the interfering mother who you cannot stand to be around. Zoe Van Tieghem plays Echo with a calm, self-assured manner needed to convince the audience that she can bridge the gap between her mother and grandmother. The character of Echo is strong and she has the determination and perseverance to make it happen. Playing what might be the most challenging role of the show is Shana Wiersum as Artie. She portrays Artie as a woman who does what she needs to do in order to stay calm and centered. Doing this is not easy for the character and it causes her to have to cut off contact with her mother and at one point Echo too. It’s hard to tell what Artie is thinking or feeling at times because Ms. Wiersum does a fine job in playing the character holding back emotion and not allowing things to come to her that will hurt her as she has been in the past.
For people who want to see a good drama about family conflicts, this is a good choice to go to see. Unless the run is extended, it will close this weekend, on Oct. 29.
Run Time: 95 minutes (approx)
Written by: Lee Blessing
Director: Alexandra Scordato
Location: John DeSotelle Studio, NuBox Theater, 300 W. 43rd Street, New York City
Performances: October 14, 16, 17, 20, 21, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29 at 7:30 p.m. and a 2:00 p.m. matinee on October 29
Contact for Info and Tickets: Wind River Productions