Her mother’s daughter
A woman’s relationship with her mother is a complex and fragile thing. Men can never really understand it. Her mother will drive her crazy like no one else. Yet women learn everything about becoming women from our mothers, making them the most important figures in our lives. This is the idea behind Eleemosynary, a play being performed this weekend by the Actors Conservatory of Northern Nevada (ACNN), the area’s premier acting conservatory for youth ages 8-19.
Surprisingly, Eleemosynary (pronounced el-uh-MOS-uh-ner-ee) was written by a man, Lee Blessing. This comedy with moments of intense drama tells the story of three generations of Westbrook women: Dorothea, eccentric grandmother and matriarch of the family, played by Taylor Thomas; her strong-willed and often unlovable daughter, Artie (short for Artemis), played by Kristan Brown; and Echo, Artie’s highly intelligent, spelling-bee-winning daughter, played by Weston Spann. By the way, Echo wins her spelling bee with the word “eleemosynary,” which means “charitable.”
Dorothea delights in her eccentricity. This exasperates her daughter, Artie, who is forced to put up with, or even participate in, Dorothea’s wild schemes. When Dorothea invents giant wings, which she believes will put a person into flight without the aid of a motor, Artie gets stuck strapping the giant wings onto her arms for the first test.
Artie, meanwhile, is the opposite of her mother. She’s practical, realistic and desperate for a normal life. As soon as she can, she runs away from home. But after her own baby girl is born, Artie, who lacks the maternal instinct, returns to Dorothea for help. Artie’s anxious to finally have her own life, so she pawns baby Barbara off on Dorothea, who stubbornly renames the baby Echo. The name suits her; Echo possesses qualities from both her “mothers.”
The first important aspect to note about this play is the age of the actresses. Spann, 16, and Brown, 17, are students at Sage Ridge School. Thomas, who very ably plays a grandmother, is just 17 and home-schooled. To watch the range of emotion and remarkable talent of each throughout the performance, it seems impossible they could be so young.
Also worth mentioning is the sparse set—nothing more than black wooden boxes—and lack of props. This forces you to concentrate solely on character development. Lighting, with the help of lighting designer Mark Symons, is crucial, almost a character in itself. Virtually the only prop used is the enormous set of wings, made by Brad Hayes and Connie Allbaugh from Reed High School’s wood shop. The wings are huge, awkward and cumbersome, making them hilarious, but at the same time perfectly representative of the weight a mother thrusts onto her daughter. The only other prop is a clove cigarette, which Artie smokes several times during the show.
Eleemosynary is only about an hour long, but in that time you’ll laugh, you might even cry, you’ll evaluate your own relationship with your mother, and you’ll learn a whole lot of new vocabulary words. All in all, a pretty wise investment.