“Eleemosynary: relating to or dependent on charity; charitable”
Ever heard that word before? Because I hadn’t before hearing about this play!
Just across the river in Waterloo East Theatre, a tiny 100 seater venue, the UK premiere of Eleemosynary is happening. Persever Productions bring Lee Blessing’s 1985 play, which focuses on the lives of three generations of women.
We’re first introduced to Echo, who’s 16 years old – she explains that her grandmother Dorothea has had a stroke. The play then flashbacks to important moments throughout their lives.
Artie is Echo’s mother and Dorothea’s daughter. She’s quite a complex character, as her upbringing with an overbearing mother has had a profound impact upon her. Education was the highest priority, and Artie had tutors from the age of 4. She describes having total recall, she can literally remember everything she has ever read. Imagine reading a terrible book and never being able to forget it!
Dorothea, played by Jennifer Wiltsie. She’s an eccentric character and quite progressive in a way, as she values education over marriage and having children. Dorothea was made to marry early, and therefore did not achieve her goal of going to College. Therefore this is her goal for Artie and Echo.
The character of Dorothea reminded me of Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit. She provided some much needed comic relief from the emotive and powerful storyline.
The staging is very simple, but effective. Books fill the stage, which highlights the significance of words between the three women of this family. The importance of education to Dorothea, the fact Artie has total recall and that Echo is a National Spelling Bee Champion. But also, all the things that are left unsaid between them.
Artie feels resentment towards her mother for her upbringing. Despite how much education she received no one explained to her about sex, which meant at the age of 18 she feel pregnant. This led to her having an abortion, and running away from her mother.
Artie later marries and has Echo, but a week later her husband dies. Dorothea is living in the same town, and Artie leaves Echo with her so she can take a job in Europe. Therefore Echo’s relationship with her mother a difficult one and is mostly conducted via telephone calls.
These three women are incredible in their roles. I loved them all, but I’m going to single out Kathryn Crosby as Artie. There is a moment in the play where she loses it, and the audience collectively hold their breath. The silence is haunting in the theatre at this moment and we wonder what will happen next. She is compelling and emotive in her performance and I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
This play is powerful and shows what an impact each generation can have on the next. Because Dorothea did not reach her goal of going to college, Artie’s upbringing was all about education. This meant that when she had Echo she didn’t know how to act around her and couldn’t touch her daughter as she didn’t have emotional support as a child herself. This then means Echo is desperate for her mother’s love and attention and for Artie and Dorothea to get on.
As a play about women, I think you’ll find aspects of each of the characters that you can relate to – if not the character itself may be someone you know.
I didn’t know what to expect from Eleemosynary- but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a beautiful story about a family of women. And I think you’ll love it too. I simply have nothing negative to say about it, it was powerful, effective and flawless.
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