‘Eleemosynary’ at All Beaches Theatre – Three Unique Women with Unconventional Life Stories

Photos by Caryl Butterley


The All Beaches Experimental Theatre is staging a play (March 17 – 31, 2019) with an unusual name which was written by Lee Blessing in 1985. “Eleemosynary” means “of or relating to charity” and is of special importance to the narrative, as that’s the word that Echo, the youngest of the characters, spells correctly to win the National Spelling Bee Competition.

This thought-provoking script explores the vicissitudes of mother-daughter bonds among three generations of women. It is an intriguing study of the ties that bind mothers despite their strong personality differences.

The action takes place on an almost bare stage with two benches and a long wooden box for furniture, which is consistent with the playwright’s directions. The cast moved freely about all areas of the stage as Lighting Designer Bryan Frank’s intricate light scheme provided highlighting.

ABET, ELEEMOSYNARY, Photos by Caryl Butterley

The play, set in 1985 and before, opens with the grandmother Dorothea (Holly Gutshall) lying in a hospital bed unable to speak due to a stroke. Echo (Brynne Tolentino), the granddaughter she has raised, is at her bedside to provide care and affection.

The play flashes back to Dorothea’s early life, as she explains to the audience that she wanted to go to college but instead was forced into an unwanted early marriage by her father. Dorothea becomes an eccentric with wide ranging esoteric interests. Her discussion of topics such as communicating with the dead and spontaneous combustion often add comedy to the story. She is intent on raising and educating her daughter Artie (Karen Konzen), and is convinced she can teach her to fly using a pair of wings she has created out of cardboard.

ABET, ELEEMOSYNARY, Photos by Caryl Butterley

Artie’s own plans are disrupted when she finds that she is pregnant and 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, and later marries and has a child. Unfortunately, her husband dies in an accident shortly after the birth, and Artie asks Dorothea to care for the child, as she is overwhelmed by the responsibilities of motherhood and wants to accept a job based in Europe.

Dorothea willingly accepts her new role and under her guidance, Echo emerges as a bright and likable adolescent who becomes a spelling champ. And as the play progresses, we see that despite the characters’ differences they are trying to work toward reconciliation.

ABET, ELEEMOSYNARY, Photos by Caryl Butterley

The three actresses gave remarkable performances as they portrayed these three unique women with unconventional life stories. It was exciting to see Holly Gutshall on stage, fully enthralling audiences as she has for a number of years. Karen Konzen was perfectly cast as Artie and adds to her impressive stage and movie portrayals. Readers may remember seeing her on stage under her maiden name Karen Overstreet in Players by the Sea’s The Fox on the Fairway and The 5 & Dime’s A Picasso. Brynne Tolentino is making her community theatre debut as she portrays the resilient dedicated Echo. She is a Douglas Anderson School of the Arts sophomore; we are hoping to see her in additional roles at DA and our community theatres.

Director Christopher Farrell was also the Scenic Designer. He was assisted by Amanda Jackson as Assistant Director, Stage Manager, and Light/Sound Operator.

Lee Blessing 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 ActorsTheatre in Louisville, Kentucky.

If you love fine acting, Eleemosynary, sponsored by Coral Reef Animal Hospital and John Johnson, is for you and you won’t have to travel to a distant state. ABET’s theater is located at 544 Atlantic Boulevard in Neptune Beach, Florida. Call 904-249-7177 or visit www.abetheatre.com for additional information and reservations.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.