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BWW Review: ELEANOR at Barrington Stage Company

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Tony Award-winning actress Harriet Harris is directed by Henry Stram in this simply enchanting production.

BWW Review: ELEANOR at Barrington Stage Company

With the new play ELEANOR, Barrington Stage Company Associate Artist and playwright Mark St. Germain brings to life Eleanor Roosevelt, the most influential First Lady the world has ever seen. From her "Ugly Duckling" upbringing to her unorthodox marriage to Franklin, Eleanor puts her controversial life, loves and passions on the stage.

Tony Award-winning actress Harriet Harris is directed by Henry Stram. The creative team for ELEANOR includes Brian Prather (scenic designer), Alejo Vietti (costume designer), Philip S. Rosenberg (lighting designer), Eddy Mineishi (sound designer), and Mary Schilling-Martin (wig designer). Renee Lutz is Production Stage Manager.

If you believe the job of a theatrical review is to be critical, let me save you some time and suggest you move along - nothing to see or read here. The use of superlatives in this case are well-warranted. Every aspect of this production works together seamlessly and synergistically. What's more, the team deploys seemingly simple techniques and tactics with very positive results. The scenery consists of a park bench and a few sheets of fabric. There is one actor in only one costume with no changes.

BWW Review: ELEANOR at Barrington Stage Company Harris, well known to Berkshire audiences, received applause upon entrance. The skilled performer remains center stage and solo for the duration of the 90-minute (no intermission) presentation. She begins by removing the fourth wall and opening a conversation with the audience. She acknowledges that she is visiting in spirit form but that doesn't seem to matter to her or to us. In the spirit form Eleanor is fluid and freely able to transport between key locations throughout history including Hyde Park, the Whitehouse, and beyond. Happily, she takes us with her. We enjoy a delightful private behind-the-scenes tour that provides a rich, emotional, and personal account of the Roosevelt family, dynasty, and presidency. At times it seems she is gossiping with girlfriends, at others leading world affairs with compassion, insight, and a good healthy dose of common sense and human decency.

BWW Review: ELEANOR at Barrington Stage Company Lighting along with projections against the hanging fabric panels helps to achieve the changes in venue quite effectively. Despite the well-styled wig, Harris does not really resemble, nor sound like the woman who was both cousin and husband to the 32nd president of the United States. Nonetheless, audience members are transfixed as she shares both good and bad aspects of the rich and sordid life of the woman who "was never asked if she wanted to be First Lady". Harris' portrayal is more poignant than emotional, and very moving. Undoubtedly, everyone in attendance learned something during this performance. More historical facts were presented than I can recall from any history class or lecture. ELEANOR leaves no shadow of a doubt as to the woman's influence as a politician and historical figure either. Along the way we meet a number of colorful and interesting persons and personalities all seen through Eleanor's eyes and portrayed by Harris with skill and aplomb. Although the voice speaking is unmistakably Harris', she transcends mere performance on all other measures, and it seems as if she becomes ELEANOR.

Mark St. German's script provides Harris with close to 40 pages (approximately 10,000 words) of dialogue. Not only is she well prepared, seeming not to have dropped a single line, she demonstrates the ability to seamlessly present multiple characters, at times within barely seconds of one another, as she delivers both parts of a conversation. Although difficult to count, I would say that Ms. Harris performs as more than a dozen additional characters over the course of the evening.

BWW Review: ELEANOR at Barrington Stage Company ELEANOR is certainly not a comedy. A wealth of well documented facts, some of which many may be surprised by, are recounted. There are also some enjoyable light-hearted moments including a reminder as to the origins of the term liberal, and its meaning as related to politics; her explanation as to the differences between Republicans and Democrats; and even a reference to issues we should not be overly concerned with because they were sure to disappear.

ELEANOR marks yet another major success both for Barrington Stage Company and Associate Artist and playwright Mark St. Germain. I expect the play will enjoy continued success moving forward, and highly recommend visiting https://barringtonstageco.org/ for tickets and more information. ELEANOR continues to play a run that has already been extended through August 7th on BSC's Boyd-Quinson stage in downtown Pittsfield.


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