A commanding artist needs to be cast in order to portray the iconic wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Fortunately, North Coast Repertory Theatre’s production of the show, Eleanor, features an excellent star, Kandis Chappell.
Set in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington D.C., the spirit of Eleanor tells the audience about her life story. She discusses her childhood, her time as First Lady and the ups and downs she experienced during her marriage.
Mark St. Germain, is known for writing plays about real people, including Freud’s Last Session and Becoming Dr. Ruth. Like those scripts, he makes the past entertaining with witty humor, strong drama and fascinating sequences about Eleanor’s personal history.
While I was entertained by Germain’s words, his prose in this piece do not always flow as organically as some of his other work. Eleanor can spend one moment talking about World War II before abruptly discussing sex what feels like a few seconds later. Although some might say the writing resembles how actual conversations can change gears, I still feel like the sudden topic changes could have been handled in a more realistic style.
What keeps the evening riveting is Chappell’s acting. She portrays various people including Eleanor, Eleanor’s mom, Anna Hall Roosevelt and even Winston Churchill. Her depictions of these individuals range from funny to intense.Chappell’s stage presence is engaging from beginning to end, which is partially due to Artistic Director, David Ellenstein’s, staging. Ellenstein places Chappell in different parts of the theatre, in ways that are visually appealing.
Helping to tell Eleanor’s tale are set designer, Marty Burnett, lighting designer, Matt Novotny, hair and wig designer, Peter Herman, costume designer, Elisa Benzoni and sound and projection designer, Aaron Rumley. Their contributions are all respectful to Eleanor’s life.
Despite some of my issues with Germain’s prose, he does stick the landing with a bittersweet final section where Eleanor reflects on her marriage. The conclusion appears to be emotionally truthful, and will likely leave many theatregoers moved by the narrative.
Throughout the 90-minute runtime, Chappell’s acting keeps Eleanor consistently captivating. Her performance is nothing short of spectacular.
Show times are Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m and 7:00 p.m, Thursdays at 8:00 p.m, Fridays at 8:00 p.m, Saturdays at 2:00 p.m and 8:00 p.m and Sundays at 2:00 p.m and 7:00 p.m.