OutCast’s “small” play examines big questions

— Created November 16, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Sometimes in life, the small things can have the biggest impact. OutCast Production’s latest show kind of follows that premise. It doesn’t have a large cast, but “Eleemosynary” has a lot to say. The 1985 play by Lee Blessing is directed for OutCast by Patricia Duff. The play opens Friday and will run through Dec. 3 at Outcast’s black box theater, 819 Camano Avenue in Langley.

The story focuses on three women of different generations. Grandmother Dorothea, played by Shelley Hartle, uses her eccentricity to bolster her independence. Dorothea’s daughter Artie, played by Marta Mulholland, has stayed away from her mother for years, allowing Dorothea to raise her daughter, Echo, who is played Rysha Maier.

“As the play begins, Dorothea has suffered a stroke, and while Echo has re-established contact with her mother, it is only through extended telephone conversations, during which real issues are skirted and their talk is mostly about the precocious Echo’s single-minded domination of a national spelling contest,” Duff described.

“It is a beautifully written ‘small’ play that really digs deep into personal/familial relationships – in this case among the women in this three-generation story,” said Ned Farley, OutCast Productions artistic/managing director. “It asks us to reflect on what drives us to connect (or disconnect) from those we love.”

Duff, who is no stranger to Whidbey Island stages, said what first captured her attention with “Eleemosynary” is the writing itself.

“Lee Blessing’s use of language in this play is elegant, witty and carefully rendered to reveal three very distinct and full characters,” she said. “This story is universal in its dissection of familial relationships, especially where they involve women, mothers and daughters. There’s a lot in this play that we can all relate to in regard to the emotional rollercoaster of life.”

Duff said she found the perfect cast to portray the three women in “Eleemosynary,” all of whom have been willing to throw themselves into their roles.

“[They] have laid themselves bare for this play and I appreciate the trust each of them has shown me during this process,” she said. “Although much of this play is comedy, some parts take a deep dive into harder issues like abandonment, unwanted pregnancy and sexism. These three actors have shown themselves to be open hearts; a three-pronged conduit of connection to each other and to the language of ‘Eleemosynary.’ I’ve had a wonderful ride with them.”

And while it’s been a bit since Duff has directed, she said she had a clear vision of what she wanted to do with this production right from the beginning. Plus, she feels her experience as an actor helps her give better direction.

“As a director, I use my own knowledge of acting to convey what I want the actor to do, knowing what is helpful to them,” she explained. “I try to allow the actors to explore and create each moment instinctually and then build in layers of the moment from what they naturally do with their voice or body.

“The more details I can offer the actor as far as what I envision for each beat of the play is only going to help them tell the story in the way I’ve envisioned,” Duff continued. “I’m constantly reminding them how to tell the story with more clarity using their voice and their bodies, the tools of every actor. Later, the lights, set, costumes and music will add another layer to what they bring to the stage.”

According to Farley, “Eleemosynary” is a perfect example of the kinds of productions OutCast likes to bring to the stage.

“Part of the decision to create OutCast Theater was to offer titles that might appeal to a potential audience looking for plays/musicals that reflect issues of our lives and times; that might ask us to think more deeply about who we are and where we are going,” he said. “‘Eleemosynary’ is a small play asking big questions about relationships, family, and what fosters or impedes connection.”

Duff said she thinks audiences will find plenty with which to identify in this new production.

“These characters have sorrow, humor and a certain dreaminess of individualism that I think will be compelling to audiences,” she said. “Also, Lee Blessing is a prolific, award-winning playwright working at the top of his game with this beautiful play and I think hearing the great plays of the American theater out loud is good for all of us; for our cultural life. ‘Eleemosynary’ is an exquisitely rendered script that tells a deep story about letting go of the past to get back to the main event: love. I think we can all relate to that no matter who we are or where we live in the world.”

“Eleemosynary” opens Friday and will run through Dec. 3. For showtimes and tickets, go to outcastproductions.net