Sunday, March 12, 2017

Independent Players Spell Out Blessing's Eleemosynary

Five years was worth the wait to finally see the Independent Players' excellent production of Eleemosynary (1985) by Lee Blessing. The unlikely title is a deep dictionary word so recondite it gets in the way of its own meaning and usage. It's a perfect metaphor for the flaws of three generations of women whose preoccupation with arcane knowledge has taken the place of understanding themselves and maintaining meaningful relationships.

A near-capacity audience was seated on two sides of a minimally set space at the Elgin Art Showcase Saturday, as the action shifted fluidly through interconnected moments of narration and dialog anchored to impressions of place and time. The talented cast was well directed to maintain such continuity through the excellent non-linear script.

The overall skill and professionalism of this production was epitomized by Marge Uhlarik-Boller as grandmother "Dorothea," a free spirit whose frustrating formative years evolved into a fascination with theoretical possibilities. Her colorful delivery was perfectly timed to inject comedy that often carried, like the play's abundance of obscure words, layers of embedded meaning.

Dorothea's daughter "Artemis" — from the Greek goddess of wilderness and the hunt — was played with tangible complexity by Lisa Schmela. Her stage movements and body language brilliantly decoded the references in Artie's words: she is always seeking relief from her multiple "attachment disorders" by immersing herself in biochemical research and moving from place to place.

Sarah Bartley played Artie's daughter "Echo," a precocious chatterbox (raised by Dorothea) whose source of joy, object of love, and purpose for living is to know the spelling and definition of every word in English. The frequent spelling recitations and sheer number of words make this role challenging, but far from one-dimensional. 

Echo covers the greatest range of all, from infancy through childhood, and on to maturity in a powerful role-reversal in the closing scene. Like her loquacious, mythical namesake, words were at times an emotionally obstructive handicap, and Echo's voice indeed reverberates with the quirky tendencies of her two mothers. But Dorothea (meaning "God's gift") is the prophet of the family as she repeats, "It's a terrible desire to want to know everything."

Clockwise from upper left: Lisa Schmela, Sarah Bartley, and Marge Uhlarik-Boller.

This ensemble did an amazing job of creating surprisingly relatable characters in vignettes that often consisted of six-syllable words, one-sided conversations and imaginary props. After 39 years, the Independent Players have not lost the knack for assembling together wonderful actors, directors and scripts. 

Eleemosynary, directed by Larry Boller, continues for one more weekend, March 17-18 at 8 p.m. at the Elgin Art Showcase.  Tickets are available at or at the door.

No comments:

Post a Comment