Theater Review: ELEANOR (North Coast Rep)

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by Dan Zeff on June 12, 2023

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego

“You not only have a right to be an individual.
You have a responsibility.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor at the North Coast Repertory Theatre is a one-woman drama that condenses the life of Eleanor Roosevelt into a glowing portrait of one of America’s great ladies. Running barely 85 minutes with no intermission, each minute is golden as actress Kandis Chappell and playwright Mark St. Germain bring to life the iconic Eleanor with wit, drama, sympathy, passion, and intelligence.

Eleanor Roosevelt died in 1962 at the age of 78. She was one of the great women of her time, admired for her warmth, charm, and strength of character. For four decades, she carved out a brilliant career through her contributions as a political force in American and international life. She won the hearts and minds of millions of people through her journalism, personal appearances, and her influence as the First Lady of President Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1932 until FDR’s death in 1945.

Eleanor lived her life on a giant international stage that included the Great Depression and World War II. Her personal life was filled with familial and marital problems, including her husband’s infidelities and conflicts with family members. But she was a fighter and a survivor who didn’t just endure, she triumphed.

For this West Coast Premiere, Eleanor fits perfectly into the intimacy of North Coast Rep’s 194-seat theater. Chappell dominates the stage but seems to speak to each audience member individually, reviewing Eleanor’s life and times with great candor, from her childhood to speaking from the grave. Eleanor peppers her character’s dialogue with wry bits of self-effacing wit, occasionally injecting bits from other characters, but this remains Eleanor’s show. Every word of the St. Germain script passes through Chappell, every mood, every painful or joyous recollection, every moment of anger, every test of Eleanor’s good nature, including her moving account of the crippling polio attack FDR contracted in his early 20s.

The North Coast staging is a seamless triumph thanks largely to director David Ellenstein, who melds all the elements that make the high quality of the production appear so inevitable. Everything on stage in terms of sound and movement is just right, including Marty Burnett‘s functional all-purpose cemetery background set, Matt Novotny‘s subtle lighting, and Elisa Benzon‘s costume design, which consists of a single dress that captures the flavor of the 1930s. Aaron Rumley comes up with a number of projections and film bits that embellish the words.

More than half a century has passed since Eleanor Roosevelt’s death. But the lady’s warm personality, courage, and intelligence radiate through Chappell’s eloquent, humane rendering of a genuine American hero. For sure we could use a few more like her in our present troubled time.

photos by Aaron Rumley

North Coast Repertory Theatre
987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach (San Diego)
Wed at 7; Thurs & Fri at 8; Sat and Sun at 2 & 7; Wed at 2 (June 28)
ends on July 9, 2023
for tickets, call 858.481-1055 or visit North Coast Rep

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mary M. Evert October 3, 2023 at 10:41 am

Excellent review of an astounding performance by a very talented actor. One of the best productions I’ve seen in years and thanks to Dan Zeff for his spot on review.


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