Barrington Stage Co.: Eleanor

Harriet Harris

I’ll tell you a little secret. My wife and I were going to go to live theater this month. The Barrington Theatre’s main stage was to host Mark St. Germain’s play Eleanor. It would star Tony award-winning performer Harriet Harris. “The play, directed by Henry Stram, brings to life Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the most influential first ladies in American History. The play has two shows, September 4 and 5.”

We had gone to the Pittsfield, MA venue a few times in the past two years. The theatre would have had limited, socially distanced seating and a cast of one. It seemed that the proper protocols were in place. We bought our tickets. Then the live production of the one-act play was shut down by new decisions from the state of Massachusetts.

My wife got a call perhaps a month ago. Our choices were several. We could get a refund, accept credit for future productions, or donate the value of the tickets. But there was a fourth option. Eleanor would now be streamed for two nights. “The play [was] filmed without an audience… In-person ticket holders will automatically be sent a link to the 7:30 show; others interested in watching the performance can purchase tickets now for $15.”

The play’s the thing

“Eleanor brings to life Eleanor Roosevelt, the most influential First Lady the world has ever seen. From her ‘Ugly Duckling’ upbringing to her unorthodox marriage to Franklin, Eleanor puts her controversial life, loves and passions on the stage.” The play was written by Mark St. Germain, as a developmental piece, i.e., a work in progress.

We know quite a bit about the former First Lady from multiple trips to Hyde Park, going back to our respective childhoods, and our sojourn to her cottage at Val-Kill. She was the first Very Important Person to die in my recollection.

St. Germain captured Eleanor quite well, from the familiar – FDR’s ongoing relationship with Lucy Mercer – to representations of her presumed inner thoughts. It was interesting in that it is “modern-day,” almost certainly in the last four years. Yet she knows she’s been dead since 1962. The play was directed by Henry Stram, though there was very little action.

All the world’s a stage

Most of the action came from the facial expressions and voices of Broadway performer Harriet Harris. She won the 2002 Tony winner as the Best Featured Actress In A Musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie. She is very good in the role of Eleanor.

This was a reading. In the introduction, it was noted how previous workshopping had cut about 40 minutes from the piece. But Harris had learned much of the dialogue. The frequency of her reading suggests that the tweaks were greater in the earlier parts of the play.

The downsides of this production are the obvious ones. You don’t see the performer’s whole body. Did the audience laugh at that line, as we did? And staring at a screen for 95 minutes is just NOT exactly the theater experience we were hoping for. It was nevertheless a nice date night event, even if it was traveling to my wife’s office rather than driving to the Berkshires.

E is for Eleanor Roosevelt

After FDR died in 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt was appointed by President Truman to be a delegate to the group that would create the United Nations.

EleanorRooseveltI watched the excellent The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, Ken Burns’s seven-part series on PBS this past fall and became even more impressed with Eleanor Roosevelt than I had been before. She was the niece of Theodore Roosevelt, the daughter of his brother Elliot.

She married her fifth cousin Franklin Roosevelt on St. Patrick’s Day 1905 in New York City, “given away” by her uncle Teddy, who was by then President.

In spite of Franklin’s marital betrayal, which wounded Eleanor greatly, they were a dynamic political couple. She could sometimes say or do things that he, a more pragmatic state legislator, governor and eventually President, could not.

In the summer of 2013, my family visited Val-Kill, her place on the Hudson River not far from the home in Hyde Park that was her mother-in-law’s and where she seldom felt comfortable and welcomed. There is a kiosk there where one could read her My Day columns, which she wrote from 1936 to 1962, the year that she passed away.

After FDR died in 1945, she was appointed by President Truman to be a delegate to the group that would create the United Nations. She became a primary author of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948.

Check out these Eleanor-centered clips from Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts:
ER Is Born & Elliot Dies
ER and the Red Cross
Her First Step into Politics
ER vs. Sara Delano Roosevelt
ER on Troubled World
ER’s South Pacific Visit
ER Leaves White House

ABC Wednesday – Round 16

One overstuffed weekend: Roosevelt, Vezina, Hembeck

At the FDR library, I saw a poster chastising “the Jews” for taking the jobs of “white Christian men”; some things never change.

ER and FDR
For whatever reason, I wasn’t sleeping well a couple weeks ago. When I booked our hotel for our trip to the Mid-Hudson for the first weekend in August, in my fatigued fog, I totally forgot that my wife had told me to secure a place for TWO nights, and that she had even arranged for a cat sitter. I was just so happy that I finally remembered to book it at all. We had made this sojourn a couple hours south a few times, and it had always been one night. This time, though, we had added a couple elements, so the extra time would have been helpful.

Instead, we headed out Saturday and went to Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s home. There will be much more on this.

Then to Hyde Park to visit the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. Continue reading “One overstuffed weekend: Roosevelt, Vezina, Hembeck”

Q is for Q&A about FDR

Eleanor Roosevelt was a distant cousin of FDR. She was “given away” by her uncle, Theodore Roosevelt.

The family was in the Mid-Hudson area of New York State back in in August. We were on the west side of the river, when we crossed the Mid-Hudson Bridge from Highland to Poughkeepsie.
Q: Wait, it’s now the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Mid-Hudson Bridge. When did THAT happen?
A: The bridge was renamed… in 1994 though the span is rarely referred to by its official name.
Q: And why is it named for him anyway?
A: “Governor and local resident [FDR] and his wife Eleanor attended the opening ceremony on August 25, 1930.”
Q: And I mention this all because…
A: We needed to cross the bridge to visit Hyde Park, the location of the longtime home of the 32nd President of the US. It’s just five miles north of Poughkeepsie.
Q: So is the town or the FDR estate called Hyde Park?
A: Well, the town is, but the estate was. Continue reading “Q is for Q&A about FDR”