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 two 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 1.5 hours south a few times, and it had always been one night. This time, though, we had added a couple of 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. It was all but closed for repairs last year when we visited the mansion – though not TOTALLY closed, as the attendant at the locale properly noted – so the tickets we got last year for the site were still valid. I needed more time in the museum than The Daughter had to give; I got through the Depression era, but I really didn’t see the World War II stuff. Still, a great exhibit. I’ll go back some time, and it’s inspired me to want to see the other Presidential libraries, most of which are in the center of the country.

One thing that struck me at FDR’s library was a newspaper editorial cartoon of FDR and Congress rolling up their sleeves and getting to work on the nation’s problems together; THOSE were the days. Another was a poster chastising “the Jews” for taking the jobs of “white Christian men”; then again, some things never change.

We went to an annual party and The Daughter got to swim. Had a GREAT conversation with a minister and his social worker wife; we seemed to be on the same page in terms of social justice and the church’s role in same. But I was disappointed that my oldest friend from college was not present.

Finally, we went to our hotel. By this point, it was dark, and it was difficult to see, so we overshot it. FINALLY to bed, but one or more of the people in my room was snoring, and I got less than optimal rest.

Sunday morning, we went down to see what the hotel offered for breakfast. It was paltry: some fruit, hot chocolate, and instant coffee, and packets of oatmeal, which wasn’t so bad except there was no MILK and we would have had to use Coffeemate, a non-dairy creamer. We went out for breakfast, then checked out of the hotel and went to see Maria.

Maria Vezina is the sister of the late FantaCo cartoonist Raoul Vezina, who had died in November 1983, at the age of 35 of an asthma attack. I hadn’t seen her in nearly three decades. While she lives and works in New York City, she was up in the Mid-Hudson with TONS of boxes of Raoul’s stuff. I sorted out certain items for a possible project. She thought it would have taken me three hours, but I did it in 50 minutes; I knew what I was looking for. More details if this pans out.

Then we departed for the home of Fred Hembeck and his wife Lynn Moss. I met Fred back in February 1980 when FantaCo published his second collection of comic book-related strips. We made the sojourn to visit them for three or four years, then not for three years because of conflicts, then for the past two or three years. Fred and I have this shorthand way of talking that occasionally confounds my wife. Fortunately, she could go out with The Daughter to the pool. They made us a nice dinner, then we left for home.

I never realized how large one upstate county could be!

We stopped in New Paltz, my college town, to catch the Thruway, but, northbound, it was a parking lot, due to, as it turns out, an overturned tractor-trailer. So we took back roads to Saugerties, didn’t get to Albany until 9 p.m., and were exhausted.

After all that, I figured we’d follow that up with a nice quiet weekend. But the Daughter had a certificate for a FREE day at Great Escape, the Six Flags park about an hour north of here, and the coupon expired on August 11, so guess what WE did on Saturday, the 10th…


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 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.

“Dr. John Bard had called his estate ‘Hyde Park’ in honor of Edward Hyde, who was Lord Cornbury and Governor of New York.” A tavern owner named his business ‘Hyde Park Inn’, then “applied for a post office to be located at his Inn, which was nothing unusual. The request was granted as the ‘Hyde Park Post office’… the Post Office’s name was ‘Hyde Park’, and thus residents’ mailing address was ‘Hyde Park’…the settlement’s name [was changed] from Stoutenburgh to Hyde Park officially in 1812.”
Q: And the estate of FDR.
A: Springwood is the site of the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site maintained by the National Park Service.
Q: What else is there?
A: Usually, the Presidential library – the first one designed by a sitting President – and a museum. The bad news is when we were there, they were under renovation. The good news is if we go back after June 2013, we can visit the refurbished buildings for free with our already purchased tickets.
Q: Why was the place so special to him?
A: It was his boyhood home, and it had (has) a spectacular view of the Hudson River and beyond.

Q: He got married to his cousin?
A: Eleanor Roosevelt was a distant cousin. She was “given away” by her uncle, Theodore Roosevelt on March 17, 1905, after which he went to attend a St. Patrick’s Day parade, taking about a third of the guests with him.
Q: Did Eleanor like Hyde Park?
A: Springwood was still her mother-in-law Sara’s home. And Franklin was very devoted to his mother. She preferred her own place, Val Kill, a couple miles away.
Q: Franklin had an affair with Lucy Mercer, and Eleanor offered Franklin a divorce. Why didn’t they split?
A: From here: “Sara… said that if he left his wife she would cut him off without a cent. Louis Howe, Franklin’s trusted adviser, said that a divorce would mean the end of his political career. So Franklin agreed to stay in the marriage under two conditions set down by Eleanor: he had to break off with Lucy Mercer immediately and for good, and he could never again share his wife’s bed. Franklin observed the second part of the agreement. How long he kept the first has been a matter of some scholarly debate.”
Q: When did FDR develop polio?
From here: “In 1921, when he was 39 years of age, [FDR] contracted an illness…. The symptoms gradually resolved except for paralysis of the lower extremities. The diagnosis at the onset of the illness and thereafter was paralytic poliomyelitis. Yet his age and many features of the illness are more consistent with a diagnosis of Guillain–Barre´ syndrome, an autoimmune polyneuritis.”
Q: How did he able to hide his ailment?
A: When he had to stand, he would, literally, lean on his son. He used leg braces to try to strengthen his legs. But mostly, he hid the fact that he could not walk, with collusion by politicians and the news media. It was said that his affliction made him a much more compassionate man.

Learn more about FDR HERE and HERE, among other places.

ABC Wednesday – Round 11

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