First Among Men

Eleanor: Her Secret Journey

Eleanor also understood that her husband's own class arrogance would stand in the way of his election. She campaigned to have him appear to be a man of the people and not a member of a powerful American social and political dynasty. Lerman's portrait of her is constructed along impressionist lines, less an articulate argument than a bundle of suggestions. For Hillary watchers the playwright's most intriguing idea is that the Roosevelts' common abiding interest in preventing a slaughter like the First World War is what kept them together and somewhat united through a difficult marriage. (Eleanor had offered Franklin a divorce when she discovered his infidelity. Her mother-in-law, fearing scandal and perhaps political ruin, nixed it.) Stuck with each other, they were able to construct something less sinister than a mere political marriage and certainly more powerful than what either could have accomplished alone.

Jean Stapleton once again wins approval by a landslide
Jean Stapleton once again wins approval by a landslide

Details

Written by Rhoda Lerman. Directed by John Tillinger. Starring Jean Stapleton. Through January 30.
Coconut Grove Playhouse, 3500 Main Hwy., Coconut Grove, 305-442-4000.

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On stage at the Coconut Grove Playhouse, Stapleton's Eleanor is by turns powerful and vulnerable. Given a saint to play, she pushes the buttons of comedy so that the woman who emerges is less than warm but more than a self-effacing wallflower. John Tillinger's direction is seamless, and the minimalist set, a combination of period furniture on stage and slides projected onto the back wall, serves the show well (though why no one ever complains that the perspective is always skewed in this theater, in which the management routinely seats at least four rows of ticket holders under the proscenium arch, is beyond me). Eleanor's life and legacy will continue to fascinate us, long after the Roosevelt political dynasty fades away. Stapleton's performance is an elegant complement, indeed.

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