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THEATER REVIEW / 'ELEEMOSYNARY' : Matriarchal Values : Play centers on three generations of women and what it's like to grow up without a father.

October 01, 1992|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Three generations of women interact in Lee Blessing's "Eleemosynary," now playing at the Santa Paula Theater Center. Despite the play's off-putting name, it's interestingly written and very nicely performed. A mixed Blessing, a punster might say, but worth seeing.

In fact, it and the recent production of "Waiting for Godot," are the Santa Paula group's two finest shows of the last couple of years--and, though harder to pronounce than "Godot," "Eleemosynary" is a lot more accessible.

Family values permeate this play, though they aren't the kind of values that current politicians point to with such pride. Artemus Westbrook, a practical-minded research biochemist, is alienated from both her Bohemian mother, Dorothea, and her daughter, Echo--so alienated, in fact, that she leaves Echo for Dorothea to raise, popping up occasionally to see how things are going.

All things considered, things are going very well indeed. Echo draws from her mother and grandmother: She's a practical dreamer, and an aspiring spelling-bee champion. Eleemosynary is her winning word.

The three bicker for two hours. The play depends on how much we're made to care about these characters, a responsibility as much of the cast and director Patricia Lynn as of the author.

Barbara Hudson is warm and believable as Dorothea, a 75-year-old who "feels 50." We see her over a span of about 30 years, starting when her daughter, Artemus, is a teen-ager forced to put up with Dorothea's experimenting side.

Artemus isn't a particularly sympathetic character; women who desert their children for less-than-noble purposes seldom are. Linda Livingston goes a long way toward engaging audience empathy for the alienated and uncommunicative character.

A highlight is the sight of teen-age Artie, dashing across the stage in an Icaruslike rig of wood and fabric wings, in an effort to please her mother, who believes that she's invented a device to facilitate flying.

Taking nothing away from those two, Sandy Katzel frequently centers the show, playing the wise but relentlessly chipper Echo at ages ranging from an infant to a toddler and on into what must be her late teens. She handles the whole range inventively, even managing one of those piercing whines that makes children so appealing to strangers. Fortunately for the audience, she doesn't manage it for long.

There's no indication of how things would have been different for either Artemus or Echo had a strong male figure been present during their raising; we are led to believe, though, that Dorothea and Artemus don't spend a whole lot of time lamenting the loss or looking for a father figure for their respective daughters.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"Eleemosynary" continues Thursdays through Sundays through Oct. 18 at the Santa Paula Theater Center, 127 South 7th St., in Santa Paula. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Thursday through Saturdays, with matinees at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $12.50, or $11 for students and seniors. For reservations or further information, call 525-4645.

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