Eleanor’s Splendor Brought to Life

            Taking on the story of a person as wrapped in 20th century history on a global and local level as Eleanor Roosevelt takes an equally brave and insightful person. But to take it on as an actress inhabiting such a large personality is something else – it is epic.

            Equal to the character she portrayed for an hour on May 13 in a one-woman performance, Linda Monchik of Marion took us on Eleanor’s journey from shy lonely child to world-renowned, human-rights advocate. The title is “An Hour with Eleanor.”

            This performance is the first in in a series of Marion Art Center Theater Playwriters Incubator productions.

            “It’s a program for first-time play-writes. The goal is to aid the writer through the creative process with mentors …,” MAC Director Jodi Stevens explained. The press release noted, “Finding theaters to produce new or unpublished plays can be an obstacle … the MTPI is a structured program that aims to discover and support, through workshop and production, new stage plays from the region.”  “An Hour with Eleanor” was written by Cynthia Krause, who states, “My interest in theater is a central theme.” A graduate of the University of Wisconsin with a Bachelor of Arts in history and Masters of Science in Education, Krause has acted, worked on Broadway plays and performed in “Scrooge,” “Social Security” and “A Little Night Music” to name a few.

            Under the direction of Maura Barry Van Voris and Richard Van Voris (daughter and father), Monchik’s flawless telling of Eleanor’s life in the first person was tender, humorous, sorrowful and profound.

            The play covered the vast range of experiences and events that placed Eleanor in the center of world events, sometimes to the chagrin of her husband, you know, the President. President Roosevelt.

            His presence in the play is there, of course, but the “hour” hardly long enough to cover one political event Eleanor participated in, never mind a quarter century of the country’s history, is a telling of life lived through her experiences, not his. In the hands of Krause and Monchik, it is masterfully crafted.

            If you are not of an age to remember Eleanor when she walked amongst us, you’ll get an enjoyable history lesson.

            This lady, who was born into privilege, never felt wanted or loved. With the passing of her father (Teddy Roosevelt’s brother), she went to live with her grandmother. Her father was an alcoholic far removed from caring about the small child he had fathered as told in this anecdote: “Father took me to the Knickerbocker and told me to wait on the step, he’d be right back.” Four hours later, the doorman arranged for the four-year-old Eleanor to be sent home.

            One can only imagine what early, inner fortitude she possessed. Krause’s words spoken by Monchik left us deeply moved.

            And while there were many moments when we were left wondering where Eleanor found the strength to persevere, there was humor as well. But methinks the humor came when Eleanor was able to best naysayers.

            One singular event, the development of the United Nations, speaks volumes to Eleanor’s brilliant, possibly superior ability to bring disparate parties together, find the common ground and work together for the good of all.

            “My job was to be useful,” she is quoted as saying.

            Indeed. She was the first (and only for a long time) woman who helped create the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and later became the first chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Eleanor spent many years both before President Roosevelt’s death and after working on projects intended to improve the lives of those whose voice was not often heard. Such groups as the League of Women Voters, Women’s Trade Union and the Red Cross she would put her shoulder to the wheel for progress of human rights.

            Today, the following would be just a small footnote to Eleanor’s history, but in 1940 she was successful in securing freedom for 83 Jewish refugees. She knew it wasn’t enough, but for those who were spared a death sentence, it was.

            Krause didn’t shy away from the personal and painful moments when Eleanor questioned President Roosevelt’s faithfulness and then the ultimate betrayal. It is all there in emotions worn by Monchik to perfection. You want to cry at the reality of her passionless marriage and daughter Anne’s part of organizing trysts for President Roosevelt with his longtime paramour, but in the next moment experience the joy and freedom the grand lady knew through her work and her relationships.

            Whether you know the story of Eleanor Roosevelt or only recently heard her name, do yourself a favor and see this play. The writer, directors and the actress have prepared a feast for you.

            The next and final performance is scheduled for Sunday, May 28, at 2:00 pm. For tickets, visit MarionArtCenter.org.

Marion Art Center

By Marilou Newell

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