PICTURED: Sarah Boughton (in back), Leslie Upson and Jenna Lay star in Eleemosynary. Photo courtesy Christopher Rubin
by Emily Dodi
This could be a very short review about Eleemosynary, onstage at The Elite through October 24. Just four little words, in fact: Please, go see it.
That is really all you need to know about this inspired production of Lee Blessing’s play about three generations of women struggling to find connection. But since we are here together, allow me to elaborate.
Eleemosynary is a whole-hearted work of art created by a cast and crew at the top of their game. More than just a mouthful (and a 70-point Scrabble word), the title gives us a window into the inner workings of the complex characters of Blessing’s unconventional play. Merriam-Webster defines “eleemosynary” as “of, relating to, or supported by charity.” Ironically, the women struggle with just that; forgiving and accepting each other’s eccentricities and shortcomings as well as their own.
Sarah Boughton, a familiar presence on Ventura County stages, has never been better. As Artie, Boughton plays a brilliant woman who fears real connection with her daughter, Echo, as much as she spurns it from her mother, Dorothea. Leslie Upson lights up the stage as Dorothea, a rich eccentric who says and does what she likes, much to Artie’s consternation. Dorothea makes no secret of wanting to be in Artie’s life, but the harder she pursues her, the more elusive Artie becomes. Jenna Lay portrays Echo with well-played turns of vulnerability and angst. She is a gifted young woman with a deep love of words — the more obscure the better, like Eleemosynary. Yet the words Echo yearns to hear most are genuine ones exchanged between her and her mother. Unfortunately, they are the most difficult to grasp.
Under Aileen-Marie Scott’s deft direction, the actors engage in a gorgeous verbal ballet, dancing around old wounds, jousting with words. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Scott, Boughton, Lay and Upson forged a collaboration that would bring out the best in each other.
The plot of Eleemosynary is almost secondary to the relationship between mothers and daughters. Time is fluid while resentments are set in stone. Blessing’s writing is filled with zingers and observations that hit home so hard they catch your breath. In the end, there isn’t so much a resolution as a hope for understanding and forgiveness and, maybe, as the title suggests, a little charity.
John Alejo’s well-appointed and colorful set and Pat Lawler’s skillful lighting help to propel the action. The set is cleverly framed with stacks of books, perhaps to suggest that the women may be intellectually superior but they each have a lot to learn about themselves and each other. There isn’t a single major set change or black out in Eleemosynary, but none is needed. The actors do all the heavy lifting here and they make it look easy.
On the back wall is a glorious pair of wings painted by Sheryl Jo Bedal. They mirror a set of wings (designed and crafted by Alejo) that Dorothea makes Artie wear at a pivotal point in the play. They raise an obvious question: do the wings symbolize the desire to fly away or the yearning for a higher love?
The wonderful crew also includes stage manager Arriana Rodriguez, and Kim Prendergast, who is on book. Todd Tickner co-produced the production with Scott.
Eleemosynary is onstage for only two more weeks. If you miss it, you’ll never forgive yourself.
Eleemosynary through Oct. 24 at The Elite, 2731 Victoria Ave., Oxnard. For tickets and more information, call 805-483-5118 or visit www.theelite.org.