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‘Eleemosynary’ lands at Interplayers

Thu., April 15, 2010, midnight

Rainee Palmer, left, Tamara Schupman, lying down, and Nancy Gasper perform a scene from Interplayers’ production of “Eleemosynary.” (Colin Mulvany)
Rainee Palmer, left, Tamara Schupman, lying down, and Nancy Gasper perform a scene from Interplayers’ production of “Eleemosynary.” (Colin Mulvany)

First, about that title: The word “eleemosynary” means “charitable” or “pertaining to alms.”

More to point, it’s the favorite word of 16-year-old Echo Westbrook. She won a big spelling bee championship with that word.

Yet even before that, it was her favorite word just because of the way it sounds: “like a small song.”

Lee Blessing’s 1985 relationship drama “Eleemosynary” is about the young Echo and the two women in her life, her mother Artie and her grandmother Dorothea.

Dorothea chooses to live as an eccentric, because it allows her to be a wife and mother “and still talk to animals.” This eccentricity comes at a price, however, since it has turned her daughter Artie cold and incommunicative, to the point where she has abandoned Echo.

Her grandmother is raising Echo to become almost as eccentric – but one heck of a spelling bee champ.

The Interplayers production is directed by Maria Caprile, an accomplished Spokane actor and director.

Tamara Schupman, who has done 14 seasons with the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, takes on the role of Dorothea. Nancy Gasper plays Artie and Rainee Palmer, an Eastern Washington University student, plays Echo.

Playwright Blessing is best known for his cold-war drama “A Walk in the Woods,” which was nominated for both a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize, and the baseball drama “Cobb.” He heads the graduate playwriting program at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.

Blessing wrote “Eleemosynary” just before those two other plays hit it big. It was commissioned by the Park Square Theatre in St. Paul in 1985 and given its professional premiere in 1986 at the Philadelphia Festival Theatre for New Plays.

It had an off-Broadway run in 1989 at the Manhattan Theatre Club.

“ ‘Eleemosynary’ is distinguished by its brevity (75 minutes or so), its clever dialogue, its unassailable ideology (this play is as vehemently in favor of feminism as its predecessors were for disarmament and against racism) and its reconciliatory conclusion,” said Frank Rich of The New York Times.

It continues to be produced in regional and community theaters because of its emotional power, its three strong women’s roles and its simple set requirements.

Blessing specifies in the script that the setting should be “minimal” with “as few platforms, chairs, stools or whatever as possible.”

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