Time to Remember
Theatre Review: Emerald Coast Theatre Company's' "Eleemosynary" wows with words and commanding performances.
The vacant storefront of the former Coldwater Creek at Grand Boulevard has been transformed into an effective black box theatre for the current theatrical offering of Emerald Coast Theatre Company, Eleemosynary. As you walk in the doors, you are greeted by an showcase of local Artists for the pre-show art show. The store is divided from front to back by a black curtain which upon entrance reveals a an intimate space with the stage (a series of simple multi-level black platforms) to the right and a few rows of seats in front of them. It's an intentional design concept that focuses all attention on the actors and the words. What glorious words they are.
The story is hard to encapsulate in a summary as it is the language of the play and the laser-sharp characterizations of the talented actresses that bring this world to vivid life. Three generations of women, each brilliant and unique in their own way. The self proclaimed "eccentric" Dorthea puts the grand in grandmother. Prone to florid dress and wild ideas, she has alienated her daughter Artie through an upbringing of pushing her to think outside of the box. Artie (short for Artemis) is analytical, brilliant, and a bit shortsighted and rebellious to her mothers quirks and flights of fancy (a childhood incident involving home-made wings illustrates a momentous break in their relationship). Artie has a daughter, Echo, who Artie abandons to Dorthea after an exciting job opportunity arises, far from her mothers grasp. The play makes a strong case for a combination of nature and nurture as Echo grows to be precociously intelligent (like her mother) and open and free( like her grandmother).One of the joys of the play is Echos' love of words- throughout the show she spells words in practice for an upcoming spelling bee. The spelling of words becomes her only way of communicating with her distant mother who repeatedly calls to quiz her and nothing more. The mere act of spelling has a musical quality to it, and instead of being put off by the constant spelling, I felt a twinge of excitement (especially in the first few lines of the play when she pronounces and spell eleemosynary, unlocking the puzzle of the title, )
The play illustrates beautifully family dynamics and dysfunction and I found it universally relatable. Director Nathaniel Fisher keeps the pacing brisk and keeps the material from feeling overly sentimental. Costume designer Anna Fisher perfectly defines the characters with well chosen pieces (Dorthea in a stunning multicolored caftan, Artie in drab business wear, Echo in a mismatched blending of the two styles creating her own unique style of her own).
Darla Briganti is charismatic. You just can't take your eyes off her. Her Dorthea has a twinkle in her eye and a joi de vivre that is mesmorizing. This seasoned actress captivates even when lying prone on the stage (Dorthea has suffered a stroke). Sharon Biermann has the less showy role as Artie, who is closed off and steely, yet Biermann imbues her with a strength that shines through, and is just as powerful as her castmates. Rachel Nussbaum plays Echo with an openness of spirit and a heartbreaking innocence,
Three powerhouse performances, but many more reasons to see this play. This is what theatre can do, what it can achieve. I left fighting back tears, but inevitably relished the emotions it evoked. Go see it. I promise you, you won't be disappointed.
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