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THEATER BEAT

A Sensitive Tale in 'Eleemosynary'

November 01, 1996|JANA J. MONJI

"Eleemosynary" is one of those frightening words that pop up on SAT exams or in spelling bees, and it is also the title of Lee Blessing's gentle comedy about the tricky love-hate relations between three generations of Wesbrook women. Peter Grego directs an engaging three-woman cast with great sensitivity in this West Coast Ensemble production.

Echo (Meredith Bishop) correctly spells eleemosynary, meaning "charitable," to win a national spelling championship and hopefully to reunite her emotionally shriveled mother Artie (D.J. Harner) with her exuberant New Age-ditz grandmother Dorothea (Bobbi Holtzman).

Artie lives her life running away from a mother who once urged her to jump off a water tower and fly with a pair of stick-and-cloth wings. Dorothea embraces such eccentricity as armor against gender-based expectations, but in doing so squelches her daughter's own flights of imagination, leaving Artie so emotionally crippled she can't love Echo.

Grego prevents this piece from being too saccharine or melodramatic and imbues it with a wistful longing for magical transformations and happy endings. Bishop is precocious but not in the sickeningly smart-aleck way that seems to plague TV sitcoms. Harner portrays Artie as a sensitive soul, full of timid, rabbity energy and furtively trying to escape Holtzman's Dorothea--a calm, but vigorous kook with an expansive zest for life.

* "Eleemosynary," West Coast Ensemble, 522 N. La Brea, Los Angeles. Tuesday, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 14, 15, 19, 20, 23, 28, 29, Dec. 3, 4, 7, 12, 13, 8 p.m.; Nov. 10, 24, Dec. 8, 3 p.m. Ends Dec. 13. $18. (213) 525-0022. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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