Review: 'Eleemosynary' at the Warner Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critic's Circle

"There's something about the Westbrook women. We have this expectation about ourselves. To be extraordinary. It's a little like having a disease in the family."

Torrington, CT - ‘Eleemosynary’ was one of the many plays that I had never heard of, but the fact that I didn’t even know the meaning of word in its title, or even how to pronounce it correctly, was a bit disconcerting. Then I read/heard in pre-show press that it was a “spelling bee word” and that somehow made sense. It all helped to make me very intrigued to attend the opening night of the fundraising performance of this play at the Nancy Marine Studio Theatre. All proceeds from the three special performances this weekend benefit the Warner Theatre’s Center for Arts Education enrichment programs.

‘Eleemosynary’ is a play written in 1985 by Lee Blessing that follows the complicated relationship of three generations of highly intelligent women in the Westbrook family. The eldest is Dorothea, an elderly woman who has chosen to be an eccentric. Her grown daughter is Artemis who works as a biochemist and possesses a remarkable memory. “Artie’s” equally brilliant sixteen year old daughter, called Echo, has been abandoned by her mother and raised by Dorothea, and not surprisingly is an excellent speller. 

As the play begins, the grandmother has suffered a stroke and Echo has reestablished contact with her mother via telephone conversations. Artie had long ago fled the stifling domination of Dorothea but then purposefully left a very young Echo to be raised by the strong-willed eccentricity of her mother. Echo adores the woman who raised her and is determined to win a national spelling contest in front of both her mother and her grandmother. While the fragmented action in seven scenes becomes pretty intense, there are many lighthearted moments to enjoy. 

Echo’s love of words plays a significant role in the piece. We come to know that the Greek word “eleemosynary” means “of, relating to, or dependent on charity; charitable,” a concept that is explored in the play. The reenactment  of the actual spelling bee was memorable and immediately reminded me of some of the lyrics from the song in ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ entitled ‘Pandemonium’... because I am truly a musical theatre geek.

This piece was chosen for the fundraiser partly because of the simplicity of the set that used one platform and only a few props. Special mention to Stage Manager Connor Picard for his beautiful lighting design and Chris LaPlante and Taryn Glasser for making sure that the audience didn’t miss a single word. 

The production was directed by Will Osborne of ‘Magic Tree House’ fame. I often don’t know how much credit to give a director and how much to heap upon the actors in a piece. In this case, I suspect that the beauty of this show is shared equally between the skilled direction of Mr. Osborne and his very talented cast of three. Smart blocking and careful consideration of just about every word in the script kept the audience close to this memory play.   

Sarah Tames, last seen on this stage in ‘Moon Over Buffalo,’ is superb in the role of the eldest woman of the trio. She brings a subtle grace to the role of an early feminist who was never allowed to continue her education. It was a special treat for me to see Isabel Carrington, the WCTAE’s Director of Education, on stage in a major role. Her talent was evident as she brought to life the damaged Artie. 

I was most impressed with the performance of Emily Creighton as the youngest member of the broken family. Ms. Creighton (‘Play On’ with the WCTAE’s Performance Lab) is a senior at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, majoring in Theatre Arts. This young actress was luminous in the role of Echo, a role that Ms. Carrington, her former teacher, had once played. She knew that she had some big shoes to fill when taking on the role and I am confident that her teacher is supremely proud of her student. 

Go see ELEEMOSYNARY this weekend! (Don't worry about knowing what it means or how to spell it - they take care of that for you.) All proceeds benefit the WTCAE enrichment programs. Current WTCAE students get in for just $5! For more info visit

Photo Credit: Luke Haughwout
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