ELEANOR – Written by Mark St. Germain ; Directed by Christine Kahane. Produced by Vintage Theatre (1468 Dayton St, Aurora) through March 27. Tickets available at 303-856-7830 or vintagetheatre.org. 

I have the deepest, most profound admiration for women (or men) like Jessica Robblee, Betty Hart, Billie McBride, Adrienne Martin-Fullwood and others who have the moxie to stand up on a stage alone with the thought in their mind that “I am going to tell this story and tell it well. Help me, Goddess!” Now we underline and rewrite the name of Deborah Persoff to that list. Deborah’s first solo outing (that I’ve seen) was an epic story about Rose, a Jewish woman who immigrated to Florida. Now in the cabaret setting of the Berg-Young Theatre in the lobby of Vintage, she lives out the high points of the life of Eleanor Roosevelt. 

Both Eleanor and Deborah have displayed amazing resilience and determination to live their lives to the fullest. They both seem to possess the ability to wield a hammer while wearing velvet gloves to quietly and with the gentlest possible public voice accomplish exactly what they think is the right thing to do. I’ve heard Deb’s backstage voice when she feels someone is being wronged (not necessarily herself) or something is bound to go wrong if it’s not changed. I’m guessing Mrs. Roosevelt possessed those same traits and that same determination. Based on what she accomplished during her long public life, we know of her outstanding philanthropic works and the changes she made that are still standing. Her acceptance of and work for all people of the United States and humanity at large is legend. No wonder Deb wanted to tell this story. 

Sitting quietly on a park bench, she begins by reading to the audience letters she found from Franklin to Lucy Mercer, her friend and Franklin’s lover. Then she went back to the beginning telling stories of her youth, her unusual courtship and subsequent marriage to Franklin Roosevelt and of being thrust into public life. She tells the stories through her own voice and those of others in her life, most notably Franklin’s disapproving mother. An early influence was Madame Marie Souvestre, her mentor at the Academy she attended as a girl in London. Imitations of Winston Churchill, Louis Howe (Franklin’s campaign manager and advisor), Alice Roosevelt (her cousin) and others sprinkle the story. 

Large projects, such as Eleanor’s commitment to civil rights and her work as delegate to the United Nations are explored, as well as small details, such as her and Franklin’s sterile but companionable relationship as man and wife and the care she gave him when he was first struck by a paralysis in his legs. Deb displays her pride in working with unions and in the work she did with those affected by World War Ii and returning veterans. 

Deborah’s quiet voice and joyful first person rendering of the stories of Eleanor’s life make for an enjoyable and enlightening portrait of a woman before her time. Most of us can only remember Eleanor as an older woman still representing woman’s issues and campaigning for Kennedy. This amusing and factual script gives us a view into the private musings of this First Lady to the World, as she was called. 

A WOW factor of 8.5!! 

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