Sunday, June 9, 2024

"Eleemosynary" by Spacetime Theatre at Gremlin Theatre

There's a new theater company in town, and they're making a strong debut with Eleemosynary, a play by prolific local playwright Lee Blessing commissioned by Park Square Theatre in the '80s. It's such a great play, delving into the complex relationships between mother and daughter (and grandmother and granddaughter), that I wonder why I've never seen it before. But I'm glad that Spacetime Theatre (helmed by Christopher Kehoe, who's been working in #TCTheater for a couple of decades) has chosen it as their first production, and cast these three talented actors. Check it out at Gremlin Theatre weekends through June 23.

Maybe Spacetime chose this play because it's a non-linear structure that jumps across space and time. We're introduced to three generations of women - Dorothea, who in the present (1985) is 75 and has just suffered a stroke; her daughter Artie, a scientist who is very busy with her important career in research; and Artie's daughter Echo, a teenager who has just won the Spelling Bee. We learn that Dorothea has raised Echo since she was little, and the reason for that, and the events leading up to the present, are slowly revealed in scenes that jump back and forth from Dorothea's childhood and her decision to become an eccentric, to Artie's childhood spent trying to get away from her mother, to Echo's fierce competitiveness in training for the Bee. The play is beautifully and smartly written in a way that keeps you engaged and curious, until eventually all of the pieces fall into place. Or enough pieces to give you a good idea who these women are, and their messy and complicated family dynamic.

The potentially confusing nature of the script with it's constant time-jumping is made clear in the hands of director Christopher Kehoe. The simple design doesn't try to be literal, but is instead comprised of several large abstract blocks, with swirls of different colors, as if we are sort of in space outside of time. The clarity also comes from this talented three-person cast, and the emotional truth they bring to their characters. As the family matriarch, Katie Tuminelly makes a welcome return to #TCTheater after over 20 years, and I hope she sticks around. She makes Dorothea fun and entertaining and over-the-top, but also grounded in real emotion. Tara Borman plays Artie as the complete opposite, all business and making the difficult choice to give up her daughter, yet also makes her relatable and human. Rounding out this terrific trio is August Chaffin, currently getting her BFA from the U of M, who literally plays Echo from a baby to a teenager, and is so believable, so precocious, so adorable, so heart-breaking. You can really feel the prickly family chemistry amongst these three, dressed in fun '80s fashion (scenic design by M Curtis Grittner and costume design by Jaclyn Mack).

And yes, eleemosynary is a real word, meaning charitable, and is the winning word in the Bee. You'll have to see the play to find out how it relates.