By David Walters
If you liked Eleanor Roosevelt before, you’ll love her after this. That alone is a reason to go. I learned so much more about the First Lady of the World as a person and her involvement with national and international efforts and achievements than I had known (I had no idea that she hosted several television shows!). What an inspiration.
This is the story of cousins born eight months and 20 blocks from each other on two different sides of the Roosevelt family, the Hyde Park and the Oyster Bay clans. They spent a good deal of time together growing up, but this didn’t keep them from landing on two different sides of the political spectrum. The set up of Eleanor and Alice, now playing at urbanStages, is that they meet up at each other’s houses over the course of eight scenes from 1904-1962 as their lives unfold.
Alice Roosevelt (Mary Bacon), party animal, exalted at nineteen to “Princess Alice” by the media when her father, Teddy Roosevelt, became President, was the wild child that was never able to settle down and rise above her self-involvement throughout her life. “I can do one of two things. I can be President of the United States or I can control Alice Roosevelt. I cannot possibly do both.” Teddy Roosevelt
Eleanor (Trezana Beverley) was her polar opposite in terms of outlook, self-reverence, and reflection. Believing in the good of humanity and in the possibility of change through effort, she tries desperately through the years to come to an understanding of Alice as she is continually challenged by her cousin. “It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.” Eleanor Roosevelt
Their personalities put them on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Alice’s, “how can I benefit from the system” Republican views, and Eleanor’s, “what can I do to make the system better for all” Democratic ones continually clashed. In fact, they simultaneously each authored newspaper columns at one point dispensing polar points of view.
Despite these differences, they are able to commiserate about the cards that life is dealing them through the years, and keep, if not necessarily a friendly, but a familial connection.
The play itself is non-active, with the two of them showing up at each other’s houses, in New Hyde Park and Oyster Bay, to have conversations about the goings on in their lives, politics, and the world. Not really conversations per se, more like Alice continually attacking Eleanor for her viewpoints and leniency. It makes me wonder why Eleanor ever bothered except that she was amazing. Despite each coming together of the cousins being mostly antagonistic, the play lacked vibrancy and immediacy and a need for the characters to be in the scene together. Except in the last scene.
After her father and brother died and she was left on her own, Alice finally begins her process of growing up, making mistakes in mothering her daughter, and getting a second chance in raising her granddaughter.
When held up side-by-side, there is of course no comparison of what the two cousins achieved in their lives. In the touching last scene that takes place in 1962, they are both in their late 70s and though not done giving, they both know there is not much more left. At this point, Alice has become more complacent and understanding of the choices that Eleanor has made in her life and almost regretful of the choices in hers. She even for the first time, although sotto voce, compliments Eleanor on the courage she expressed in her life.
In between each act are informational projections of pictures, quotes from each Roosevelt, political cartoons, and newspaper headlines that move the audience along on the timeline of history that sweepingly carries the two women along with it. It’s a pleasure to share in their amazement as they talk about the wonder of the newfangled automobile, Sputnik, and the telephone. They lived through the Roaring 20s, the great depression, World War II, and civil rights that saw a lot of change in this country.
John Salutz (Lighting Designer), David Margolin Lawson (Sound Designer), Gail Cooper-Hecht (Costume Design), Kim T. Sharp (Projection Designer), Jaime Terazzino & Madeleine Burrow (Set Designers), Susie Ghebresillassie (Costume Design Assistant), Vincent Scott (Associate Producer) | Duane Pagano (Lights/Set Consultant), Fiona Misiura (Production Stage Manager).
urbanStages is having informational talk backs through the run of the show with historians, authors, and personalities. For something that might interest you, see the calendar of events here.
As always, this is just one person’s opinion in a world filled with them.