Lee Blessing wrote "War of the Roses," "Independence," and "A Walk in the Woods" - for which he won a Tony nomination. He is not a playwright to be dismissed.
In "Eleemosynary," he explores, again, the downside of love. This time he dissects the relationships between three generations of women: mother, daughter and granddaughter. At times the play is hilarious. At times it is painful to watch."Eleemosynary" is challenging and interesting, but ultimately, flawed. It doesn't seem to match the work he did in either "War of the Roses" or "A Walk in the Woods."
There are few flaws in the acting, however. As a woman caught in the middle between her mother and her daughter, Marcia Dangerfield is especially good in the role of Artie Wesbrook.
She is a beautiful woman who has worked in television in Los Angeles as well as in local stage productions. Dangerfield moves with ease across the stage and back and forth in time.
Dressed in knit slacks and a tunic (Dawnetta Brown designed the costumes) Dangerfield manages to appear a petulant teenager in sweatpants and then, by slipping on a pair of high heels, become a sophisticated and hardboiled adult.
She is terrifically moving in one scene where she recalls being 7 years old. Her voice is a child's voice. Suddenly she makes the knit outfit look like a pair of jammies.
Bonnie Durrance-Doyle plays Artie's mother, Dorthea. Dorthea is a self-proclaimed eccentric. "There's nothing the mind cannot bend," she announces. Mostly she works on bending her daughter.
Durrance-Doyle has been a reporter for Time magazine and has traveled and acted around the world. She brings life and joy to her character. Dorthea has a lot of funny lines and Durrance-Doyle makes us laugh out loud.
Sina Chatelain plays the daughter, Echo. Chatelain is a sophomore at Skyline High School, yet she brings more than a schoolgirl's understanding to her part. Echo is a spelling champ. The words she memorizes are like a collection of jewels, she says. And her attempt to win the national spelling bee is also an attempt to heal the wounds she and her mother and grandmother have inflicted on each other. Eleemosynary, which has to do with charity, is her winning word.
Because of these three actors - and because the Broadway Stage is such a pretty and comfortable theater - "Eleemosynary" is worth seeing. But, be warned: You are likely to come away feeling frustrated with Lee Blessing.
He gives us three very likable characters. He gives them funny and tragic lines to recite. But he also gives us a less-than-satisfying plot.
Blessing asks us to believe that Artie adored her husband, who was Echo's father. He tells us that Artie was so loyal that she never stopped mourning for the first child she carried. Then he tells us that this loyal and loving woman just up and abandoned Echo when the baby was barely learning to talk.
In "War of the Roses" love between a man and a woman turns to hate. That seems possible. And so does the love/hate relationship between mothers and their grown daughters. Blessing doesn't succeed as well when he tries to explain a love/hate relationship between mother and baby.