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BEST DEBUT BY A NEW THEATER Phoenix 2004 - TheatreScape's Eleemosynary

With its debut in January, TheatreScape whetted our appetite for more and better community theater productions. The tiny company bowed with Lee Blessing's Eleemosynary, a story of three women -- a mother, her daughter, and her granddaughter the spelling bee champ -- for whom love and resentment are indistinguishable. Blessing's nonlinear tale is a tough one to tell; it's a stylish, witty play as challenging as a good word game. Its lighthearted narrative is crammed with sadness and loss; it asks us to root for some pretty pitiless people; its main storytelling technique is avoidance. Yet Patrick Du Laney's skillful, intuitive direction and pitch-perfect cast made sense of these complicated women and their less-than-perfect lives. And when tiny Michelle Chin, her eyes filled with tears, crossed the stage during her curtain call to retrieve the paper wings that are her character's prized possession, there was hardly a dry eye in the house.

It was tiny details like this -- the wide purple wing sketched onto the set's cubist triptych; the tears welling in Lauren Bahlman's eyes when she confronted her daughter; the wonderful musical bit enacted by Barbara McGrath -- that made this Eleemosynary so gratifying. The result was a sad story told with a generosity of spirit, and an impressive debut from a troupe whose new season we look forward to.

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