Story: Dorothea, an eccentric, 75-year-old free spirit, has suffered a stroke and is unconscious. Her precocious granddaughter, Echo, continues to talk to her, however, convinced that Dorothea continues to communicate.
Communication, or the lack thereof, is the sticking point for Dorothea, her brilliant daughter Artemis (Artie) and Barbara (Echo). Dorothea, hamstrung and frustrated in her own life by a husband who didn’t relate to her yearnings, has focused her life on an array of spiritual and mystical quests which she has foisted on her only daughter as well, even while distancing herself from Artie’s three older brothers.
Artie, though, has her own issues. She has spent her life running away from her domineering mother, excelling professionally as a respected biochemist while simultaneously searching in vain for happiness and an escape from a superior memory that retains every painful moment of her relationship with Dorothea.
Artie’s flight from familial responsibility extends to her own daughter, whom she gives to her mother to raise, with only occasional phone calls that serve as her demonstrations of love. And Echo, a young woman of superior intelligence, deals with her own issues of maternal abandonment while caring for her grandmother, all the while preparing for a national spelling bee she’s certain she’ll win.
Highlights: Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble, whose mission is to “encourage and enable an intense exploration of movement-based theatre through ongoing training, education and collaboration,” puts its credo to good use in this sobering and satisfying interpretation of playwright Lee Blessing’s one-act drama from 1985.
Blessing’s script provides three significant roles for actresses to mine for their rich potential, something director Ellie Schwetye and her cast largely succeed in realizing. Most notable is Rachel Tibbetts’ haunting and harrowing realization of Artie’s tortured psyche, which she exemplifies both in speech and in her frequent forays into lonely exile at the bottom of stage left.
Tibbetts beautifully conveys a lifetime of desperation and tortured wandering as the middle third of this familial female trio, a woman who can never measure up to the ideal perpetuated by her own mother’s frustrated attempts at a meaningful life.
Other Info: Blessing’s script enables each performer to take center stage for impact, as the three women alternate in their attempts to reach self-fulfillment and satisfaction. Margeau Baue Steinau, founding artistic director of SATE, captures both Dorothea’s Bohemian fits of flight as well as her suffocating version of motherhood, which includes vicarious living through her daughter, whom she models after classic definitions of art in ancient Greece.
Her own daughter, Madeleine Steinau, shows significant promise of her own as the confused Echo, who admires her bizarre grandmother but also chafes at the feelings of abandonment by her mother. The granddaughter was given the ‘normal’ name of Barbara by Artie in an attempt to find a permanent place for her in society, but quickly became ‘Echo’ to please Dorothea’s fancy. The younger Steinau does a fine job, but needs to address issues of projection, as her faint voice too often fades into obscurity.
The trio of actresses is backed by pianist John Schranck, whose original music enhances the melancholy flavor of the tale from the back of stage right. Schwetye’s scenic design suitably depicts the randomness of the women’s mental and emotional states with a platform supported by an array of books in haphazard fashion.
David Hahn’s lighting focuses on each player in pivotal scenes, Tracey Newcomb-Margrave enhances Dorothea’s attempts at non-mechanical flight with her concept of wings. Cassie Kurth adds an array of accompanying props, while Dottie Quick’s graphic design supports the overall effect.
Eleemosynary takes its title from an adjective meaning ‘1. Of, relating to, or dependent on charity; 2. Contributed as an act of charity; gratuitious,’ according to media notes. Blessing’s triumvirate of conflicted characters each taps into those core definitions as they struggle to find their unique places in family and society, well realized in SATE’s earnest interpretation.
Group: Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
Venue: The Chapel, 6238 Alexandra Drive
Dates: November 14, 15, 16, 17
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of RumZoo Photography