The Theatre Department of the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts presented a five performance run of Lee Blessing’s “Eleemosynary” from September 27 to October 3 in the Black Box Theatre on the school’s Southside campus.
The production was the North Florida premier of this 1985 play with an unusual name. Eleemosynary means ‘of or relating to charity’ and is of special importance since it is the word that Echo, one of the characters, spells correctly to win the National Spelling Bee competition.
This thought-provoking play explores the vicissitudes of mother-daughter bonds among three generations of women. It was an intriguing 100 minute study of the ties that bind mothers despite their strong personality differences.
The play was performed on an almost bare stage of connecting platforms, with two small benches upstage. A canopy of randomly placed letters of the alphabet hung from the ceiling. The cast moved freely about all areas of the stage as Lighting Designer Spencer Yeoman’s intricate light scheme provided highlighting.
The play opened with the grandmother Dorothea (Emily Greene) lying in a hospital, unable to speak due to a stroke. Echo (Amanda Severson), the granddaughter she raised, is at her bedside to provide loving care and affection.
The play flashes back to the teenage life of Dorothea who rises and explains to the audience that she wanted to go to college but was forced into an unwanted early marriage by her father. Dorothea becomes an eccentric with wide-ranging esoteric interests. Examples include communication with the dead and spontaneous combustion. She is intent on raising and educating her daughter Artie (Emily Poehlman), and is convinced she can teach her to fly, using only a pair of wings she has created out of cardboard.
Artie’s plans for college are disrupted when she finds she is pregnant. She reluctantly agrees to an abortion at her mother’s insistence. Afterward, she leaves home and remains estranged for years. She avidly pursues a career in scientific research, then marries and has Echo. When her husband dies shortly after Echo’s birth, Artie asks Dorothea to raise her. She is overwhelmed by the responsibilities of motherhood and wants to be free to accept a job position based in Europe. As mentioned earlier, Echo becomes a spelling champ, and is a very competitive and intelligent young lady.
As the play progresses we see that despite their differences, they have a great deal of love for each other and all three are desperately trying to work toward reconciliation.
The three Douglas Anderson students gave remarkable performances and were uniformly excellent as they clearly defined these three interesting women and their unique personalities. Director Bonnie Harrison’s stage direction kept her actors very animated and mobile, a challenge handled by the performers with precision.
Tony Award Winning Playwright Lee Blessing (for “A Walk in the Woods”) is a prolific writer with a wonderful way with words. This play contains many quotable lines. Two of our favorites were “Life is a long apology” and “I have trouble with my memory…I can’t seem to forget.” As critics we have been privileged to see four of his plays in different years at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, and were delighted with the opportunity to see DA’s excellent production here in Jacksonville.
More good things are coming to Douglas Anderson this year. Up next, on November 15, 16, 17, is the musical “Beauty and the Beast.” Get your tickets early, as it is bound to be a sellout. On April 18, 19, 20 in 2013 in the Black Box Theatre DA will present Elmer Rice’s “The Adding Machine.”
Thank you, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts for another interesting and stimulating evening of theatre.