Subscribers and friends of Compass Rose Theater Company had major cause for celebration last month with the opening of the troupe's new theater home in the Annapolis Arts District.
The redeveloped 2,900-square-foot space at 49 Spa Road now has a full lobby, classroom, library and a large backstage area for performers and dressing rooms, with a ceiling height of 25 feet and a 10-by-25-foot stage. Designed by Severna Park-based theater architect Gary Martinez, the theater comfortably seats 70.
Martinez described it as "a dynamic space for a dynamic company," and Lucinda Merry-Browne, founder and artistic director of Compass Rose, called the theater "the realization of the dream of a lifetime."
"The opening of Compass Rose Theater is a credit to the dream and determination of Lucinda Merry-Browne and her team of board members and supporters," Annapolis Mayor Joshua Cohen said at the opening celebration. "It is also a testament to the vitality of Annapolis' burgeoning arts community, and it will strengthen our young and growing arts district."
The March 22 debut came in time for the third show of the professional teaching theater's second full season, and those attending had double cause for celebration in Compass Rose's choice of Lee Blessing's "Eleemosynary." Told through a series of flashbacks, Blessing's 1985 play probes the complex relationships of three women: 75-year-old grandmother Dorothea, her daughter, Artemis (Artie), and Artie's teen daughter, Echo.
Estranged from her domineering mother, Artie winds up abandoning Echo, thus leaving her upbringing to Dorothea. We learn that the free-spirited Dorothea, who had been forced after high school into an arranged marriage by her father, had little interest in her three sons born before the birth of her only daughter, Artie. But Dorothea tried to persuade her daughter to do impossible tasks, and Artie escaped to build a career as a scientist.
Artie's own daughter was given the name Barbara but is raised as Echo by Dorothea and has almost no contact with her mother. Echo and Artie talk only in phone conversations, where the topic is spelling words for an upcoming national contest.
Director Matt Bassett makes the drama between the three independent women come alive. In his program notes, Bassett stresses that Blessing gives the definition of "Eleemosynary" — relating to charity or being charitable — to remind us that "each of the Westbrook women looks to give and receive charity. Their difficulty in doing so is where their troubles lie."
Bassett has little trouble communicating the dimensions of maternal expectations, and daughters' struggles to meet them.
Dorothea is played by Ilona Dulaski, a member of the Actors Equity Association and the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. With an extensive musical background, Dulaski makes a memorable Compass Rose debut here in a strong portrayal softened by humor. This complex character is clearly not as tiresome as described by Artie.
Janel Miley, also debuting at Compass Rose, has the role of Artie, and conveys her torment at disappointing her mother and her fierce determination to escape her dominance. Miley, who brings an impressive list of credits from Baltimore and Washington theaters, makes Artie's abandonment of her daughter poignantly understandable, and also makes the audience feel her aching attempts to communicate with Echo.
As Echo, teenage Maya Brettell mostly succeeds in her portrayal of a brilliant, driven girl determined to win the national spelling bee — and with it, the admiration of her grandmother and mother.
Brettell is required to deliver complex monologues expressing Echo's need for a genuine connection with her mother, with lines like, "The sound of your voice that says, 'I love you' and 'I failed you.' No one ever failed me, not grandmother and not you."
Such profound lines are a tall order for a teenager, requiring a level of careful enunciation that was promised in Saturday's performance and will presumably come even more fully in future performances.
"Eleemosynary" runs about 90 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through May 12. Tickets are available online at compassrosetheaer.org or by calling 410-980-6662.
Chorale at St. Anne's
Meanwhile, the Annapolis Chorale concludes another stellar season next weekend at St. Anne's Church, Church Circle, in Annapolis, when J. Ernest Green conducts contemporary masterworks of composers John Rutter, Morten Lauridsen and Karl Jenkins.
Rutter's beautiful "Mass of the Children" and Lauridsen's magnificent "Lux Aeterna" are perhaps better known than Jenkins' "Requiem," introduced in 2005. Jenkins brings new meaning to the traditional "Requiem" by using unexpected Japanese and European elements to make music that's truly for today's generation.
Concerts are at 7:30 p.m. April 19 and 8 p.m. April 20. Tickets can be ordered at liveartsmaryland.org or at Maryland Hall Box Office at 410-280-5640.