"Eleemosynary," A Full-Length Play by Lee Blessing

grandmother and granddaughters enjoy multigenerational living
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It might be best to begin your approach to this play by learning how to pronounce the title and understanding the meaning of this vocabulary word.

In this dramatic work by Lee Blessing, three generations of highly intelligent and freethinking women attempt to reconcile years of family dysfunction. Dorothea was a repressed housewife and mother of three sons and a daughter, Artemis (Artie), whom she favored.

She discovered that being an eccentric suited her perfectly and spent a lifetime thrusting her wild ideas and beliefs onto an unappreciative and doubting Artemis. Artemis ran away from Dorothea as soon as she could and kept on the move until she married and had a daughter of her own. She named her Barbara, but Dorothea renamed the child Echo and began to teach her everything from Ancient Greek to calculus. What Echo loves most is words and spelling. The title of the show comes from the winning word that Echo spelled correctly at the National Spelling Bee.

The play jumps backward and forward in time. As one character relives a memory, the other two play themselves as they were during that time. In one memory, Echo portrays herself as a three-month-old. At the beginning of the play, Dorothea has suffered a stroke and is bedridden and catatonic for several scenes. Throughout the play, however, she takes part in her memories and then transitions back to the present, trapped in her minimally responsive body.

The director and actors in Eleemosynary have the challenge of making these memory scenes feel authentic with smooth transitions and blocking.

Production Details

The production notes for Eleemosynary are specific regarding set and props. The stage needs to be filled with an abundance of books (signifying the sheer brilliance of these women), a pair of homemade wings, and perhaps a real pair of scissors.

The rest of the props may be mimed or suggested. Furniture and sets should be as minimal as possible. The notes suggest only a few chairs, platforms, and stools. Lighting should consist of  “ever shifting areas of light and darkness.” The minimal set and the stress on lighting serve to assist the characters in moving between memories and the present time, allowing focus to be on their stories.

Setting: Various rooms and locales

Time: Now and then

Cast size: This play can accommodate 3 female actors.

Roles

Dorothea is a self-acknowledged eccentric. She uses her eccentricity as a means to escape the judgment and pressures of a life she didn’t choose. Her desire was to influence her daughter to embrace her way of life, but when her daughter runs from her, she refocuses her attention on her granddaughter.

Artemis has a perfect memory. She can remember anything and everything with total accuracy. She has two desires in life. The first is to research and find out everything she possibly can about this world. The second is to be as far away from her mother (in both body and spirit) as possible. She believes in her heart that she failed Echo and that failure can never be undone, just as she can never forget a single detail of her life.

Echo has a mind to equal both her mother’s and grandmother’s. She is fiercely competitive. She loves her grandmother and wants to love her mother. By the end of the play, she is determined to use her competitive nature to mend her relationship with her elusive mother. She will no longer accept Artemis’s excuses for failing to be a mother to her.

Content issues: Abortion, abandonment

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