Eleemosynary – adjective: Of, relating to, or dependent on charity; charitable. And while the notion of such giving is not immediately apparent in Lee Blessing’s play Eleemosynary, the show is a touching tale of how family becomes each other’s charity in times of great struggle. The Compass Rose Theater is proud to present this heart-warming and deeply moving drama as the inaugural production in their new home located right at the head of historic Annapolis. Directed by Matt Bassett, this production focuses tightly on the dysfunctional family relationship between three generations of women, using the words of a spelling bee as the lens and filter.
Director Matt Bassett crafts a presence of existence into this strictly non-linear story. It becomes everyone’s story as the daughter, mother, and grandmother character take turns narrating, and Bassett’s deliberate choice to leave all players on the stage even when they are silent creates a subtle sense of voyeuristic connectivity with the audience. The characters become watchers, just like those of us in the audience watching, inviting us to more closely examine their world. Bassett highlights the strengths of the relationships, or lack thereof, in this production letting the shifting roles of family become a central focus that grounds the play.
The aspect of being charitable finds itself floating to the surface near the play’s conclusion as it is realized that each of these women take charity from one another, often without realizing it; the daughter Echo becoming a mothering figure to her ailing grandmother, the daughter Artie abdicating her motherly duties to her own mother, and the grandmother Dorothea giving her motherly love to her granddaughter. The cycle comes full circle by the end of the production and leaves the audience with a profound notion of wanting to re-evaluate the relationships in their own lives.
These three talented women come together on the stage to illustrate a story that is told more than it is shown. Their monologues that often address the audience are reflective in nature and deeply self-expressive, reaching out to the audience and capturing their attention with precise attention to detail in their speech patterns. Their interactions with each other are few and far between but when they do come into contact with one another, be it in the present moment or a flashback, the connections are like electricity, sparking, and rattling about with a liveliness that is riveting.
The middle woman – second generation Artie (Janel Miley) is torn between two worlds. Forever in the shadow of her off-kilter mother she finds herself faced with the prospect of being a mother when she really has no desire to be one. Miley is a compassionate performer with a clear understanding of how to balance a character’s emotions, reeling them in so that when she has moments of sheer outburst, like during the recounting of her nightmare, they impact the audience tenfold. She grapples with the painful torment of being truly detached from her daughter while simultaneously being unable, if a little unwilling, to connect with her mother. Miley floats the character on the surface, reserving the more raw moments of her humanity for terse and intense scenes with Echo, making for a brilliant performance all round.
Wildly eccentric, and completely by choice, is Dorothea (Ilona Dulaski). The character is presented with an ingrained sense of flightiness and aloofness. Dulaski takes that to the next level and fully lives up to her self-proclaimed eccentricity by engaging her voice in a fun and freeing manner. All of the characters in this production are searching for a freedom of sorts and Dulaski finds it in her character’s yearning for flight. Since she’s never able to fully reconcile it physically she takes a mental flight and adds layers of rich comedy and purposeful existence to the performance. Dulaski thoroughly grounds the character in her delusions making them a palpable reality for everyone to experience.
Tangled up in a web of words is Echo (Maya Brettell). An enchanting and almost enigmatic character, Brettell clings to the words of her character’s existence as if they are holding her aloft on the stage. Every time she pauses to spell something she creates poetry with her delivery. The unique focus of Echo’s character revolves around her perception. She only ever sees Dorothea as this strong eccentric woman who has become a mother to her, and not the weak and frail stroke victim who cannot speak. Brettell’s ability to be present in the moment as her teenaged self is impressive, especially when watching her revert into the physical and mental states of a toddler and young child, altering her voice and body language appropriately to fit the moment. An overall brilliant addition to this cast of talent, Brettell brings a clear recognition of charity through dysfunction.
It may hit close to home for many that watch it, but Eleemosynary is a play worth watching, if for nothing else but to help you gain perspective in your own life.
Running Time: Approximately One hour and 20 minutes, with no intermission.