Actress Sue Struve plays the one and only role – Eleanor Roosevelt – in the dynamic production of Eleanor: Her Secret Journey. This is the third play in the Rose Play Festival: A Celebration of Women currently in production at Compass Rose Theater in Annapolis. Eleanor: Her Secret Journey is produced by Lucinda Merry-Browne and Directed by Rick Wade with author Rhoda Lerman, who unfortunately passed away on August 30, 2015.
Eleanor: Her Secret Journey takes place in her home and various locales Eleanor recalls from memory as she tells of her early years. A restless wife and mother of five, Mrs. Roosevelt is unfulfilled by her duties at home and infuriated with her cheating husband, Franklin. Eleanor searches for meaning in her life with great determination as she tries to carve out her own identity.
Struve plays Eleanor conservatively, starting with her costume by Renee Vergauwen. Her hair is properly pinned back, she wears a double string of pearls, a long sleeve print blouse, a purple wool skirt, and black lace-up shoes with a suitable heel.
Struve cleverly delineates each scene by managing to speak both sides of the conversation. Struve’s ability to do so is obvious by vocal changes, facial expressions, and body language, still a simple costume add-on like a hat, shawl, or gloves would enhance the scene changes.
The first scene has Eleanor visiting with her mother at their home. Seated in a wicker rocking chair on the porch, it appears Eleanor’s mother was quite the aristocrat as well as opinionated about Eleanor’s position in life.
The next scene transitions Struve over to the other side of the stage. There she giggles her way through fond memories of a Sergeant she met at a canteen. Struve embraces young Eleanor as a girl on the verge of womanhood. The Sergeant and Eleanor had a brief flirtation and then he is gone. Her giddiness obviously was proof of genuine feelings. News from him later had Eleanor feeling both silly and sad as Struve goes from a smitten to sadness.
Soon enough Eleanor dispels her husband Franklin’s indiscretion. Certainly a painful time for Eleanor, and it leads her to Paris where she met with Bernard Baruch. This scene is dark and Struve presents that dark ugliness of World War I and a destroyed Paris with its people in desperate need. The anguish and pain read clearly on Struve’s face as she tries to repress the anxiety of the situation.
Upon her return to New York, the celebration goes awry with two nurses committing suicide because it was crazily shouted, “The donuts are poisoned!” Such few words caused men to do so wrong. It is “Major Duckworth” who later in her years, show how WAR leaves one RAW.
Sue Struve brings to life Eleanor Roosevelt, who became known as the “First Lady of the World.” Struve transforms the well-bred and proper Eleanor to an energetic and effective woman who finds her voice in her later years.
One can only venture that a one-woman show is an ultimate challenge for an actor from line memorization to presenting enticing dialogue. The credit goes to Playwright Rhoda Lerman for such lush language and to Sue Struve for her eloquent, intense, sensitive, and truthful portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Ironically, I saw a quote the other day paired with a picture of Eleanor Roosevelt that said, “Women who behave, don’t make history.” Hhm…
Running Time: 65 minutes, with no intermission.