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Eleemosynary
by Lee Blessing
Directed by Doug Finlayson
Mustard Seed Theatre
February 6, 2016

Austen Danielle Bohmer, Nancy Lewis Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Austen Danielle Bohmer, Nancy Lewis
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Eleemosynary is an exploration of the unconventional in the story of three generations, a non-linear story that’s a study in emotions and relationships. It’s a fascinating play, now on stage at Mustard Seed Theatre. Lee Blessing’s story of family, estrangement, eccentricity and love of language and life is presented with spirit by a first-rate cast.

It’s a fairly straightforward premise, but then the story veers on flights of fancy through various times in the lives of young spelling bee champion Echo (Austen Danielle Bohmer), her mother Artemis or “Artie” (Kelley Weber), and grandmother Dorothea (Nancy Lewis), with whom Echo has lived for most of her life. At the play’s outset, we learn that Dorothea has had a stroke and has been hospitalized, necessitating Artie’s return. The story jumps around, recounting tales of Dorothea’s chosen life of eccentricity and its effect on the sensitive, increasingly distant Artie, who has difficulties relating to her mother and her daughter.  Although the story is by no means linear, it’s not confusing, either. It’s structured in a way that highlights the eccentricity of its characters as well as majoring on the emotional connections between the characters.

With such an emotional story and complex characters, casting is essential in a play like this. Mustard Seed and director Doug Finlayson have assembled a talented, fully invested cast to tell this story. As the word-obsessed Echo, Bohmer adeptly portrays the character’s intelligence as well as her sensitivity and underlying sense of determination and hope. Lewis is also memorable as the willfully unconventional Dorothea, allowing the audience to see her stubbornness as well as her optimism. Weber, as Artie, gives a masterful performance, displaying the sensitivity and fear that lead to her estrangement from her family but also displaying a real sense of caring and desire for connection, despite the fear.  All three performers work together well, showing a believable family relationship that is the heart of this production.

The set, by Kyra Bishop, is a colorful, whimsical multi-level unit that provides an ideal space for the many shifts in time and place that occur in the story. Michael Sullivan’s lighting also contributes well to the overall atmosphere of the play. Jane Sullivan’s costumes perfectly suit the characters, from Echo’s bright-colored overalls to Dorothea’s more eclectic attire, to Artie’s more subdued, conventional fashion.

Eleemosynary is a richly told story that focuses on self-expression and multi-generational relationships. It’s a vivid portrayal of three fascinating characters, raising many thought-provoking questions. Mustard Seed has brought it to the stage with style, energy, and heart.

Kelley Weber, Nancy Lewis Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Kelley Weber, Nancy Lewis
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

 Mustard Seed Theatre is presenting Eleemosynary at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre until February 21, 2016.

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