PW’s ‘I am Eloise’ explores childhood reality and imagination

Monday, October 23, 2006

Tara Schuster ’08’s “I am Eloise” delighted the audience with its portrayal of life through the adolescent eyes of Eloise Pritchard Saturday night.

Schuster, who wrote and directed the play, presents a coming-of-age story that explores the emotional growth of Eloise (Jessie Hopkins ’08) as she matures from a child to a young woman through relationships of redemptive love and destructive hate. With her imaginative self-exploration, Schuster’s Eloise liberates herself from the fetters that inhibit personal development through dramatic encounters with her personal history.

A self-proclaimed explorer of truth who is enthralled by Egyptian history, Eloise has a stunning capacity for re-imagining her life in scenes that involve herself and her two friends, the cleverly alliterated Kit (Alicia Coneys ’09) and Kat (Daria Marinelli ’10).

Eloise’s powerful imagination leads her to a hidden place where she speaks freely with her imaginary love interest Cesarion (Andrew Evans ’09), the son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. This make-believe realm stands in opposition to the reality of her life, in which she cruelly mistreats her younger sister and is disgusted by her unstable mother (Sophie Shackleton ’09). Eloise’s nurturing imaginary friend known as “me,” (Alice Winslow ’08) starkly contrasts with the abrasiveness of her mother, whom Eloise blames for her unhappiness.

Schuster’s Eloise presumably alludes to the titular character of Kay Thompson’s much beloved children’s book series, “Eloise.” Like Thompson’s Eloise, Schuster’s Eloise is a carefree and idiosyncratic character. Indeed, Schuster’s Eloise is frank yet sincere, strong-willed yet weak and loving yet vengeful. But above all, she is enchanting.

The audience was collectively moved by Hopkins’ delightful performance. She was particularly impressive in how she aptly channeled the delightful verve of the imaginatively complex Eloise through awkward adolescent movements and emotive speech.

The enchanting quality of the protagonist is balanced by her abrasive and often shocking mother. In playing the challenging role of this emotionally unappealing character, Shackleton powerfully conveyed the mother’s difficult life as a divorced woman who desperately and unsuccessfully tries to find happiness.

Contrasting Eloise’s sweet imagination to her pitiable mother’s depressed hallucinations, Schuster used her considerable directorial skills to explore the imaginative world her characters create to escape the crushing weight of reality. In doing so, Schuster intriguingly suggests that the emotional pain of life is a pre-condition to the imaginative recreation one finds in literature.

In addition to the fine acting of Hopkins and Shackleton, Winslow, Coneys, Marinelli and Evans all played their roles with vitality and subtle skill.

The imaginative quality of memory and the idea of time were symbolized in the set design of Allison Grubbs ’09. A sandbox surrounded the periphery of the set. The box provided a stage set for Eloise’s imaginative flights to the desert of Egypt. It also suggested how Eloise must unearth and then bury some of her memories if she is to free herself from her childhood grief and mature into an emotionally secure young woman.

The last performance of Schuster’s charming play will be tonight at 8 p.m. in T.F. Green Hall.

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