First Lady of the Theater

Last month, the Sundome was visited by Bully, a touring show with John Davidson, solus, as Teddy Roosevelt. This weekend, Scottsdale Center for the Arts hosts another one-person show, about another Roosevelt: Eleanor--Her Secret Journey. The famed first lady is played by Jean Stapleton, beloved for a more blue-collar role, that of Edith Bunker of TV's All in the Family.

"I was privileged to play the part in Eleanor, First Lady of the World, about her post-White House life as a delegate to the U.N.," explains Stapleton. The 1982 TV film was the first major post-Bunker project for the actress. The solo theater piece is by Rhoda Lerman, an adaptation of her book Eleanor--A Novel.

"The text was drawn from that, and made into an actable presentation," says Stapleton. "We open when [Eleanor] is out of the White House, and she's very glad to be out of the public eye; and then Mr. Truman calls and asks her to be a delegate to the U.N." She refuses at first, but as the show progresses, she chats with the audience as to a guest, discussing her past and the world's problems, and eventually decides to accept the challenge. Unlike the theatrically elaborate Bully, however, this solo show is sparely produced. "We have a very simple set, with a few projections on a screen behind. Not literal projections, just suggestions of [Roosevelt estate] Val-Kill."

Stapleton, who cites Eleanor--along with Edith Bunker--as among her favorite roles ever, hopes that Eleanor--Her Secret Journey will eventually land on Broadway. The show has played at three regional theaters in the East, after a most unusual premiere: on a Theatre Guild cruise ship.

"It's wonderful to have debuted it on the Black Sea, just as we left Yalta," says Stapleton. "It's very appropriate for Mrs. Roosevelt, who loved to travel so much."

--M. V. Moorhead

Eleanor--Her Secret Journey is performed at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 1; and the same time Friday, April 2; and Saturday, April 3; at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, 7380 East Second Street. Tickets are $30 and $34. 994-2787 (SCA), 784-4444 (Ticketmaster).