Lee Blessing’s provocative 1985 play “Eleemosynary” opens Friday at the Fishtank Performance Studio and runs through Nov. 16.
Sidonie Garrett, artistic director of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, is staging the show at the intimate theater in the Crossroads with Jan Rogge, a veteran of many productions at the Shakespeare festival, KC Rep and the Unicorn; Heidi Van, curator of the Fishtank; and Katie Hall, who has performed in “Carousel,” “August: Osage County” and “A Christmas Carol” at the Rep.
Blessing’s play depicts complicated mother-daughter relationships in three generations of women. Blessing employs flashbacks, monologues and sometimes linear narrative in his story of Dorothea, an eccentric, domineering matriarch; Artie, her insecure daughter; and Echo, Artie’s daughter who is raised not by her mother but her grandmother.
“Even though it was written 1985 … it’s still relevant today,” Van said. “Looking at this play, it was kind of stunning in a way as we got into it, that not much has changed for women. It’s still hard to make your place in the world and have a family and children and a house and a successful career.”
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The play was first produced professionally in Kansas City in the 1990-91 season at the Unicorn Theatre. Van said the play was ideal for the Fishtank, which for this show will seat about 30.
UMKC Theatre partners with the Acting Company
UMKC Theatre, also known as the theater department at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, is one of four educational institutions selected by the nationally known Acting Company for a new three-year initiative aimed at developing opportunities for actors, directors, designers and educators.
Others selected include Arizona State University, Towson University in Baltimore and the State University of New York-Oswego.
Each institution will anchor a “consortium” of other schools in its region. In all, 26 universities and schools will be involved. UMKC will coordinate a group that includes Kansas State University, the University of Missouri in Columbia, the University of Kansas, the University of Central Missouri, Kansas City Young Audiences, Shawnee Mission North High School, St. Teresa’s Academy, Rockhurst High School and Olathe East High School.
The organizations will be involved in a three-year program with the goal of developing new work related to the Acting Company’s plan to stage dual touring productions of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” and a newly commissioned play by Marcus Gardley based on the assassination of Malcolm X modeled on the structure of Shakespeare’s play.
The Acting Company was founded in 1972 by actor and stage producer John Houseman and Margot Harley, and tours nationally, usually performing classics and sometimes newly commissioned work. The company’s alumni include Kevin Kline, Patti LuPone and Jeffrey Wright.
The current company includes Grant Fletcher Prewitt, who graduated from the UMKC master of fine arts actor training program in 2012.
Just how the regional consortiums will organize themselves will be determined though a series of workshops scheduled for each region.
Ian Belknap, the Acting Company’s artistic director, said one goal is for each consortium to develop a new work that “reacts” to “Julius Caesar” and the play on Malcolm X. Each of those would eventually be performed in New York, he said.
One reason UMKC was chosen was its track record of working with professional theaters in the Kansas City area. The theater department has partnered with Kansas City Repertory Theatre, the Unicorn Theatre, the Coterie and Kansas City Actors Theatre as a way of providing professional experience to graduate and undergraduate students.
“What really drew us to the Kansas City market was not only the leadership of UMKC, but that all the other schools brought something different to the program,” Belknap said.
The long-range goal, Belknap said, was to create sustained relationships between the Acting Company and the schools involved and heighten the Acting Company’s profile in communities beyond its annual touring shows.