Family. F-A-M-I-L-Y. It can be difficult no matter how easily you can spell it, no matter how eccentric you choose to be in order to escape it, no matter how far you run from it. Which is exactly how Echo (Maya Brettell), Dorothea (Ilona Dulaski) and Artie (Janel Miley) attempt to make sense of it in Lee Blessing’s Eleemosynary.
Before any of these women, connected through generations, walk onto stage, the object of their individual and collective worships are obvious. Stacks of books litter the stage, seemingly haphazardly. Save for some curtains and what at first appears (and later is proven to be) a pair of constructed wings, there are only books. The totality of human knowledge is contained in books, and it seems as if the Westbrook women have tried to garner all of it. But like so many who learned everything in books, they never learned how to live.
Dorthea is mother to Artie, who is mother to Echo. Though it’s sometimes hard to tell who plays what role, given the various arrangements the three found over the years as the politics of family shaped and re-shaped their notions of family. Not even the women themselves know. The only thing that’s obvious is how they use knowledge. Dorthea attempts to surpass it (she built those wings so her daughter Artie could fly). Artie buries herself in it, leaving her daughter to conduct research. Echo tries to use it to find her mother’s love.
Artie offers narration of how the family ended up how it is (however it is). Dorthea decided to be an eccentric – “It’s like choosing to be a Lutheran” – and pushed Artie toward a life of academics. It’s a life Artie wanted, but she didn’t want her mother to be the one deciding that for her. So she ran. And ran and ran and ran. Even after she bore Echo, she ran, finally giving the child up to Dorthea. It was, after all, Dorthea who gave the girl the name “Echo.” Her birth certificate still reads “Barbara.”
Echo, discovering that her family connects through endeavors that favor the intellect rather than the heart, decided to become the best speller on Earth and win the National Spelling Bee.
Family can be difficult, and the relationships between father and son or mother and daughter can be the most difficult. Because you see in the other a piece of yourself, whether it’s someone who you could one day become or someone who could one day become you.
Closes Mary 12, 2013
Compass Rose Studio Theater
49 Spa Road
2 hours, 10 minutes without intermission
Tickets: $15 – $30
Thursdays thru Sundays
All three women are desperate to be loved, but instead of spending their time simply loving, they spend it over-achieving, trying to prove themselves worthy of love.
Dulaski’s portrayal of Dorthea might be lovable, but there’s a steely precision to her eccentricity, the inverse of Miley’s portray of Artie, which has a softness poking its timid head through her coldness, her distance.
As is so often the case, only young Brettell, as Echo, can be honest with who she is. Unfortunately, the unsure women who have paved the way for her have left her utterly confused as to who that is. After all, when Echo asks her mother if she loves her, Artie responds with the coldest honesty imaginable: “Yes. And no.”
A quick note on venue: Compass Rose should be lauded for its new space on Spa Road. The last time I ventured to Annapolis for a production, the theatre was nestled in a strip mall and fairly difficult to find. The new space both feels more spacious and warmer than the former, and it’s a wonderful place to catch a production. One note: It’s off of a traffic circle, so keep your eyes peeled or you’ll fly right on past it.
Eleemosynary by Lee Blessing . Directed by Matt Bassett . Costume Design by Julie Bays . Lighting by Cat Herine Girardi . Produced by Compass Rose Theatre . Reviewed by Travis M. Andrews.