May 25 2011 12:00 AM

Strong acting can’t sustain a murky script in Williamston drama


Reading the description of Williamston Theatre’s latest
production “Eleemoynary” before heading to the theater, you might wonder
if the play will leave you bawling over unresolved mommy issues. In
retrospect, that would be a far more rewarding outcome than the way
“Eleemosynary” does leave you feeling: underwhelmed and unaffected.

Lee Blessing has created some interesting
characters in this three-woman show, which relates the story of three
generations of Westbrook women. Dorothea (Julia Glander) is the grand
matriarch, a feminist who tries to give her daughter and granddaughter
all of the support and motivation that she was never given by the men in
her family. She was an only child who was ignored by her father.
Married off after high school, she was subsequently ignored by her

Dorothea is highly intelligent and
inquisitive, and when she learns from a spiritual guru at a party in the
1940s that “no one holds an eccentric responsible,” she dedicates the
rest of her life to eccentricity. She tries to pass on her joie de vivre
to her daughter, Artie (Rebecca Covey), with no success.

Here, the script gets a bit murky. Artie is a humorless automaton who resents her mother’s attention.

While Dorothea can be overbearing, it remains unclear why
Artie never learned to appreciate her mother’s love. She acts as if she
is the product of a psychology experiment whereby she was raised with a
wire monkey for a mother. That is to say, it seems that she cannot give
or receive love, and no meaningful explanation is provided.

On the other hand, granddaughter Echo (Michelle Meredith)
basks in Dorothea’s glow. Artie had abandoned Echo at a young age, so
Dorothea raises Echo as her own. They feed well off each other,
encouraging one another’s passions.

When Dorothea suffers a stroke, Artie and Echo struggle to define their relationship without her.

The characters are too contrived to make a real connection
with the audience. Their eccentricities are formulated for the stage,
crafted to heighten moments of humor and dramatic tension. One never
forgets that one is watching a play, as opposed to being emotionally
connected to the characters and their situation. Still, the performances
are touching.

Glander is a hoot as Dorothea. She obviously has fun portraying the free-spirited character, playing her quite naturally.  She
makes the easiest connection with the audience, being the most likable
character of the three. Who wouldn’t want a Dorothea in his or her life?

Artie is as brittle as her mother is buoyant. Covey plays
the character well, projecting her clear discomfort around people, but
it is a thankless task. Artie’s attempts to explain the angst behind her
behavior do not promote feelings of empathy. Compared to her mother and
her daughter, she comes across as a total buzz-kill who barely deserves
the love and attention of the other women.

The script does have some powerful moments, such as the
reenactment of the tense final moments of Echo’s National Spelling Bee.
This is Meredith’s best scene. She becomes a stage mom’s dream — but her
mother and grandmother’s nightmare —when she gleefully and openly
eviscerates her opponent. It is as shocking and tense a moment as a key
scene when Dorothea explains to Artie that having an abortion will make
her life better.

“Eleemosynary” may spark a few generational discussions about love, motivation and motherhood.  More
likely, though, the play will simply spark reminiscences about the time
that Grandma held a séance to thank the Thanksgiving turkey for his

Williamston Theatre
Through June 12
8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 3 p.m. Saturday, May 21, June 4 and June 11
$25 Friday and Saturday evenings; $20 matinees; $18 Thursdays; $10 students; $2 off regular price for seniors
(517) 655-7469