The West Coast Premiere of "Eleanor" at North Coast REP Shows the True Theatre Going Experience

Currently Playing Until July 9th 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Eleanor - Kandis Chappell photo by Aaron Rumley
North Coast REP has staged great plays by Mark St. Germain. I think I can call myself a fan now? After seeing Freud’s Last Session, Becoming Dr. Ruth, and Dancing Lessons and thoroughly enjoying them. All different from each other and captivating. In their latest production, NCR presents the West Coast premiere of Eleanor by St. Germain, and until this point, it is four out of four for me.

In this one-person show, Kandis Chappell takes audiences through First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt's life narrating triumphs, losses, family relations, her children, and her marriage to Franklin D. Roosevelt. The piece is around 80 minutes with no intermission and starts with Eleanor sitting on a bench at Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Cemetery. The backdrop is a visual by scenic designer Marty Burnett that entails vertical screens "mixed up" in the greenery of the property where projections designed by Aaron Rumley are shown intermittently along the performance. The created vibe is serious yet peaceful.

The 80 minutes go by in a breeze as Chappel is likable and engaging and, the life anecdotes that St. Germain chose to adapt are too. From how Eleanor's mother Anna described her when she was born as "a little more wrinkled than the average baby" to then calling her "granny" because of how shy and proper she was. Interestingly introduced herself by her full name "Anna Eleanor Roosevelt" and then explained she brushed the "Anna" away as her mother was named Anna as well. The performance even feels like a podcast or "storytime". There is a trashcan next to the bench and trash outside of it; as Eleanor is talking to the audience, she complains about the trash and picks it up analyzing each of the contents: An empty Sour Patch Kids bag that just by the name does not seem appealing to her, an empty bottle of Gatorade which she pronounces Gator-Ade, and if the audience is not cracking up already there's a red button that reads "Make America Great Again", I will leave that one on its own but you can imagine. 

Eleanor - Kandis Chappell  - photo by Aaron Rumley

Directed by David Ellenstein, Kandis takes her time telling the story taking in the audence's rapport making the experience richer. It would seem she is doing a choreography as she leans in, backs up, sits down, and stands back up, in a 1-2-3 organic motion wearing a long-sleeve dress with a tied at the waist put together by costume designer Elisa Benzoni and making it just right with hair and wig by Peter Herman. I have mentioned in other pieces that there is a responsibility when producing plays about historic figures as it is not easy because there will be people that lived through that era and know the facts, as well as people who did not and are learning those facts for the first time. This woman's life like her husband's and uncle created paths that we still walk through today. While being the first lady she had a column, she was friends with Amelia Earhart, and amongst many other things, she is praised for her Public Relations skills. 

Another positive about this play is that Mark St. Germain gives us a relatable Eleanor as she did not get along with her mother-in-law -at all- she greatly disliked her which she often makes jokes about and that is fun (lol). She explains being fifth cousins with her husband and takes out a family map so everyone can understand assuming it will not be easy to. These details and Chappel's charm illustrate with Eleanor the pure theatre-going experience. One actor, one act, one set, and an enchanting time. 

Currently running until July 9th, click here for performance dates and times. 

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