The chemistry between actors makes this love story come to life.
By JOHN W. GOODWIN, JR.
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
NILES -- Most people who know the public life story of Eleanor Roosevelt would be shocked and pleased at the behind the scenes glimpse of her life offered in the Trumbull New Theater's play "Eleanor: An American Love Story."
Well known is the story behind Eleanor Roosevelt the first lady. This story, however, ends long before she ever sets foot in the White House and deals with much more than politics.
The two-decade-long snippet of the life of one of America's most memorable personalities begins on a train ride and reunion with distant cousin and soon-to-be husband Franklin D. Roosevelt, and culminates in 1922 with a woman who has emerged from the shadows of a troubled marriage, an overbearing mother-in-law, personal tragedy and self-doubt to become the woman most Americans remember.
What stands out most in the play is Eleanor Roosevelt's challenges in being a woman who clearly held views and feelings not so well received by other ladies in her social circle.
The willingness to step down on the social ladder and work for the benefit of others, her tendency to put the needs of family above success and her desire to think independently of others -- including her husband -- are a few of the ideals that leave the audience with the desire to stand and cheer for "Babs," as she is called by Franklin Roosevelt.
The play, adapted from a book by Jonathan Bolt, also captures the personal struggles that often go along with thinking outside of the norm. Eleanor's strong front, the one shown to the American public, disintegrates on several occasions behind closed doors, making her all the more real to everyday Americans.
This, of course, would be lost if it were not for the outstanding performance of Maureen Gregory as Eleanor. Gregory brings a presence to the stage that takes hold of the audience, carrying each spectator on a personal emotional roller coaster as seen through the eyes of Eleanor.
Equally impressive is Jeff Hendrickson opposite Gregory as Franklin Roosevelt. The pair share a chemistry that would entice one to believe the love portrayed on stage exists today as it did 60 years ago in the actual lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Also worth mentioning is the performance of JoAnn Winterbauer as Sara Roosevelt, the mother of Franklin Roosevelt. Winterbauer comes off wonderfully as the snobbish, upper-class person of leisure everyone loves to hate. She even manages to pull a laugh or two from the audience.
"Eleanor: An American Love Story" is directed by Terri Gilbert and will run weekends through May 25.