Eleanor: Her Secret Journey
Reviewed by David Kashimba

The strongest beat, in Jean Stapleton's portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt at San Francisco's Marines Memorial Theatre, comes from an antiwar drum. Written by Rhoda Lerman, Eleanor: Her Secret Journey is a thought-provoking, distinctly feminine look at politics, power and war. Though covering a wide range of Eleanor's life this one-woman play focuses on the years 1918 to 1922, long before her husband became president. It was a time when Franklin was assistant secretary of the Navy and Eleanor was provided with some poignant insights into WWI, a devastating war often equated with the war in Vietnam, by therapists and professionals in the field of psychiatry, for the debilitating effects it had on the soldiers who survived. In the play Eleanor recalls an American WWI veteran's words: The Germans didn't win that war but neither did we. Only the war won that war.

Another scene Eleanor recalls was a returning troop ship at war's end. A welcome home committee on the dock threw donuts up to the returning soldiers on the deck of the ship. Instead of being grateful they threw the donuts back at the welcomers as though they were hurling tomatoes at a bad stage performance. One of the soldiers yelled, they're poison; the government is trying to poison us. This sense of paranoia and mistrust of authority made a profound impact on Eleanor, leading her to question the validity of a war that asked too much of its soldiers, a war that seemed without reason or purpose, asking men to die for nothing.

It's through these visions of war, politics and power by a sensitive woman that we see Eleanor grow from a woman, born into a well-to-do socialite family, to a social activist and independent woman. Subtly woven into this antiwar theme is Eleanor's battle on a different front, the clandestine war and sexual politics that she subtly fought when she discovered Franklin was having an affair with another woman. Stapleton seamlessly blends these two fronts into the strength of character that Eleanor became noted for.

Don't miss this fine performance while it's in San Francisco. For Marines Memorial Theatre tickets or information on future touring performances call toll-free (877) 771-6900 or any BASS outlet.

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