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Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Relations between mothers and daughters are sometimes prickly and sometimes loving and almost always challenging for your average guy to comprehend.
On the evidence of “Eleemosynary,” however, male playwright Lee Blessing seems to be the exception. His one-act play tackles the bonds and fractures among three generations of one family’s women and does a pretty good job of showing what makes them tick.
“Eleemosynary,” a drama that is leavened by generous dollops of humor, can be seen this week in the June M. McBroom Theatre at Community High School. It’s a production of Gamut and is one of the company’s more accessible efforts. Playgoers who have been puzzled by Gamut’s forays into the riddles of Beckett, Pirandello and the like will be rewarded if they give this one a shot.
Besides being reasonably audience-friendly, Gamut’s “Eleemosynary” is given a sterling ride by director Michael Mansfield and his excellent cast of three: Rachel Sailer, Amanda Mansfield and Emma Sala.
Sailer portrays Dorothea, mother of Artie and grandmother of teenager Echo. Her own educational ambitions having been thwarted by her father and later by her equally cloddish husband, Dorothea aggressively pushes her daughter and granddaughter toward exceptional intellectual achievement. Dorothea has attained late-life happiness by declaring herself an eccentric and behaving accordingly.
(Longtime theatergoers hereabouts will remember Sailer from her delightful performances at Mill Mountain Theatre during its halcyon days at Center in the Square. It’s a pleasure to report that her chops are as sharp as ever.)
Artie (short for her given name of Artemis) is in the accomplished hands of Mansfield, wife and sometimes acting partner of the play’s director. Driven to distraction by her overbearing mother, Artie decamps to build a personal life and a successful career in scientific research. She leaves her 2-year-old daughter to be reared by Dorothea.
Why Artie abandons Echo to the seemingly loony Dorothea is puzzling at first, as is the fact that Artie can’t bear to touch Echo, can communicate with her only by telephone and answers “yes … and no” to the question of whether she loves her daughter.
Then there is Echo, mathematics prodigy, national spelling champion and in her own way just as driven and competitive as her adored grandmother and the mother whose love she craves.
Blessing has dropped a heavy load on the character of Echo, but Sala is up to the task despite a slight tendency to hurry her lines. The recent high school grad has been acting since the age of 9, according to the program notes. Among her talents is a crystalline singing voice; it opens the show and periodically reappears to good effect as “Eleemosynary” proceeds.
The play requires close attention, as Blessing’s script jumps about in time and mingles extended monologues with more conventional narrative. He does not allow the fact that one of the characters has died to prevent her from speaking to other characters or directly to the audience.
But in the end we perceive more clearly the inter-generational threads that link (or divide) the women and cause them to behave as they do. A clue is provided by the play’s title, “eleemosynary,” meaning charitable, which turns up in the key spelling bee.
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