Lee Blessing's Pleasant Stage Essay

ELEEMOSYNARY Play by Lee Blessing. Directed by Lynne Meadow. ALTHOUGH it is the central concern of Lee Blessing's new comedy, charity has to find its way home for the three women of ``Eleemosynary.'' At the play's outset, young Echo (Jennie Moreau) is spelling out the word and acquainting the audience with its meanings. Her expertise has just made Echo a spelling bee champion. How she got to be so bright and why she became the responsibility of her eccentric grandmother, Dorothea (Eileen Heckart), provides the narrative of Mr. Blessing's pleasant but sketchy stage essay, produced here by the Manhattan Theater Club.

It develops that Dorothea - whose researches extend from the aerial to the astral - and her daughter, Artie (Joanna Gleason), have long since become estranged. Echo and Artie have communicated mostly by telephone. The child's spelling bee triumph paves the way for a possible reconciliation between mother and daughter - even though the fatally ill Dorothea will not live to share in it.

Mr. Blessing employs dialogues and monologues to acquaint the spectator with the fluctuations of the strained relationships. The playwright's feeling for language and affection for his family of women inform this small, piquant play. Under Lynne Meadow's attentive direction, a trio of resourceful actresses responded to the quality of the writing and the complex of emotions - comic as well as poignant - involved in the unsettled state of family affairs.

Miss Heckart brought a consistently dry humor and down-to-earth practicality to the role of the otherwise ditsy grandmother. In the difficult part of daughter Artie, Miss Gleason earned the spectator's sympathy for a woman who, after all, has risked a permanent break with her child in order to enjoy the freedom to pursue her own career. Miss Moreau made a winning figure of the youngster whose prideful precocity doesn't prevent her from grasping the deeper implications of a word like ``Eleemosynary.''

John Lee Beatty designed the spare setting, a raised platform at the center of the semi-arena stage. The costumes (including a pair of wings for Artie's hapless attempt at flight) were by William Ivey Long. Dennis Parichy's lighting followed the fluidly shifting action of the long one-act play. Having closed after its brief scheduled run at the Manhattan Theatre Club, ``Eleemosynary'' will begin performances May 26 at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., continuing through June 11.

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