According to director Jodi Papproth, Eleemosynary wasn't the only new word the cast needed to learn in order to perform Lee Blessing's 1985 play of the same name, a multigenerational story of three women, the youngest of whom has a knack for spelling bees. How about clamjamfry or oppugn? "I never really found the pronunciations for all of them, so we just guessed," she laughs. "I'm assuming if we couldn't track them down, no one in the audience will know the difference."
"Eleemosynary," by the way, means "of or relating to charity."
A love of words is partly what attracted Papproth to the play when she saw a production of it five years ago at a Nebraska conference for theater educators. Unfortunately, she could in no way picture the play being produced at Cheyenne Mountain High School, where she runs the theater program. "It has three characters, all women. In school, you have twenty-five girls auditioning for every boy, so you try to find ways to get the boys involved. This was just too small."
For the past year and a half, the Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts, nestled against the water in scenic Palmer Lake, has given people like Papproth a chance to branch out and express something beyond what they could manage at their respective schools. Recently, Tri-Lakes has showcased rousing productions by Harold Pinter and Edward Albee, plus an original play by teacher and Tri-Lakes board member Chip MacEnulty. Because five of the six board members teach drama or music locally, Tri-Lakes' collaborators share similar schedules and can coordinate to squeeze new productions in.
Eleemosynary also represents a chance for Papproth to work with award-winning actress Jane Fromme, recently seen in the CC Alumni Theater's striking Copenhagen. "I brought my students to a performance she did in Brian Friel's Molly Sweeney -- she was sitting in a stool for the whole play, and had gone blind. I was afraid my students would be bored out of their minds, but they were enthralled."
Fromme plays Artie, who is the mother of the abandoned Echo (Cheyenne Mountain High School senior Chelsey Dailey) and the daughter of the libertine Dorothea (Jenny Kistler). The play explores the relationships between the three characters, shifting through time, dream, memory and harsh reality. "When my sister and I talk about something that happened to us when we were young, we each remember it differently," says Papproth. "Sometimes one person will notice the positive and another person won't -- this play, I think, is told that way. It's filtered through the characters' memories." Eleemosynary's evasive chronology presented a challenge for the crew, especially since Tri-Lakes' limited technology made it difficult to indicate shifts through lighting changes. Instead, Papproth used other tricks; for example, a character might freeze in the background and later re-animate to indicate a return to normality.
In working together, the director and cast members ended up relating the characters' predicaments -- parents' expectations, mother/daughter bonds, the pressure as a woman to be more liberated than the previous generation -- to their own situations. "Some people would die to have a mother like Dorothea, who is eccentric and pushing you to do new things," says Papproth. "But everyone feels that way about their mothers -- you always go through a phase of wanting different parents. My mother was the 'cool mom' who talked about sex and drugs with me, and didn't make me come home early. My best friend had a 'saint mom,' who always did everything perfectly. She envied me, but I often wanted my mom to be more straight and narrow. In the play, Dorothea's eccentricity can be just as abusive as overprotection."