Close your eyes. No peeking! We're going to do our first In-Your-Own-Home One-Word Spelling Bee.
I'll say the word, then it's up to you to spell it correctly and tell me the definition.OK? The word is: Eleemosynary.
Looks like it belongs on a spelling bee list, doesn't it? Can you pronounce it? Do you know what it means?
William Mulder, a member of the board of trustees of the Broadway Stage Theatre, mailed letters to 50 English teachers in the Salt Lake area recently and asked them to spring just such a surprise "test" on their students - inviting the youths to spell "eleemosynary" and provide what they thought was the proper definition.
Mulder did it as more than just an act of charity (a clue to the definition). He was drumming up interest in the regional premiere of playwright Lee Blessing's "Eleemosynary," opening Thursday, Jan. 24, at the Broadway Stage, 272 S. Main, and continuing through Feb. 16.
During the play itself the word pops up as part of a national spelling bee involving a 16-year-old girl who is growing up in the middle of a somewhat tenuous relationship - being reared by her strong-willed grandmother and practically shunned by her career-oriented mother.
Directed by William Sargent, who is artistic director for Hiatus Productions Inc., the Broadway Stage's resident theater company, said the play examines the subtle and often perilous relationships among three remarkable women - Echo, a young girl of exceptional intellect; Artie, her brilliant bio-chemist mother, who has fled the stifling domination of her mother; and Dorothea, the grandmother, who has sought to assert her own independence through domineering eccentricity.
The three women are played by Bonnie Durrance-Doyle (Dorothea); Marcia Danger-field (Artie) and Sina Chatelain (Echo).
When board member Mulder's interesting surprise experiment was announced in Chatelain's English class, the young actress dutifully filled out her paper with the correct spelling and definition - then added a "P.S." for the teacher noting that she was not ethically qualified to take the test because she was in the play and already knew the answer.
Sargent is pleased with his cast for the show and is impressed with Chatelain's remarkable talent.
"Sina carries one-third of the show. She only had one line in a recent play at school, but she comes from an artistically oriented family," he said.
"I have three very intelligent women playing three very intelligent women," added Sargent. "They're sharp and this has been one of the most rewarding experiences since I've been here and probably one of the most constructive and creative rehearsal periods in all of the material we've done here so far."
Sargent said that several weeks ago he and his staff were reading scripts for the first show of the 1991 season. He was intent on finding one that would have strong roles for women. They considered doing "Taken in Marriage," "but that doesn't show women in a very good light."
They also looked at "To Grandmother's House We Go," but "that veers off in two different directions."
Then Marnie Sears, who is scenery designer for the show; Patty, Sargent's wife, and Sargent all read Lee Blessing's "Eleemosynary."
"We started off with mixed feelings and were initially concerned that it must not be pretentious but should have a really moving depth to it," he said. "It does and it is an absolute delight."
Sargent said the show has been "particularly exciting for us, the main reason being I wanted an all-woman cast, but, more importantly, it was a piece in which the collaboration between the actors, director and designers could come together in a unique way.
"It's not a linear play with a pat beginning, middle and an end, but it wanders through the memories of three very dynamic women."
Sargent feels that Marnie Sears' set, which creates a kind of "amphitheater for the mind," and Brad Russell's innovative lighting, both make for some dramatic effects.
"Marnie caught something right off," said Sargent, "That was that the play had a slightly Greek classic overtone."
Playwright Blessing was a Tony Award nominee for the highly acclaimed "A Walk in the Woods," and also wrote "Independence," produced last year in the Lab Theatre at the University of Utah with Ann Decker.
Blessing also wrote the original stage version of "War of the Roses."
Sargent added that "I also feel that what makes `Eleemosynary' special is that there is a certain amount of a dysfunctional condition in this trio - the mother, daughter and granddaughter."
The young girl is rejected by her mother and is raised by her grandmother and yet - when the mother and daughter are thrown together following the grandmother's stroke - the young girl is adamant that she and her mother must build a new life together.
"This child has emerged out of this dysfunctional setting," says Sargent, "and it makes me think that these are the children who become motivated and who know where they're headed and they rarely get into trouble."
"Eleemosynary" is a free-form play "that no two directors would direct alike and no three actors would perform alike," commented Sargent. "And it speaks to women more than men and children, although men and children should certainly see it, too. But the women in Utah are the kind who thrive for independence and it says something to them, too."
The grandmother grew up during an age when husbands told their wives "You don't need any more education," so she raises three sons and a daughter - then tries to achieve success in life by proxy through her only daughter's achievements. Instead, this just drives a wedge between them. The upshot is, of course, that the mother then has trouble developing any kind of loving relationship with her daughter.
"Eleemosynary" has had successful runs in other regional theaters around the country. It was first produced at the Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, Minn., then was featured in Aprilof1986 at the Philadelphia Theatre Festival for New Plays.
"A funny, perceptive and eloquently written play," said David Nawley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
"The language is elegant, witty and carefully wrought," said Philadelphia critic Vio-lette Phillips.
- PLAYDATES: "Eleemosynary" will be presented Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. from Jan. 24 through Feb. 16. Saturday matinees can also be scheduled at 2 p.m. for groups of 50 or more.
There are also discounts available for students, senior citizens and groups. For reservations or further information, call the Broadway Stage box office at 359-1444.
- FYI: "Eleemosynary" is pronounced el-eh-moss-in-ary.
Webster's New World Dictionary lists the following definition: Of or for charity or alms; charitable; supported by or dependent on charity; Given as charity; free.