As I was handed my ticket at the box office of Stage Left Studio, I smiled and professed “I am an Eleanerd!” The notion that one might not know exactly which Eleanor I’m nerdy for did not occur to me until I said this to Dorothy Chansky, the co-writer and director of Three Eleanors, a story of how the lives of Eleanor Roosevelt, Eleanor of Aquitane and Eleanora Duse intersect and diverge as well as how they have influenced young women today.
I’ve just returned to Brooklyn from a month being a group leader the Girls’ Leadership Worldwide at the Eleanor Roosevelt Center for Leadership at Val-Kill. On my first day on the job, the only thing I knew about Eleanor Roosevelt was that she was a First Lady and….and that’s it! But after founding editor of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Allida Black spoke to the GLW girls about the trials ER faced and overcame with strength through out her life, her vast political influence beyond the political status of the husband, and her profound commitment to human rights, I was in love with Eleanor Roosevelt. I purchased volume 1 of Blanche Wiesen Cook’s biography of ER the first chance I could. I’m up to page 300 something.
So okay, I’ve got to give Eleanora Duse and Eleanor of Aquitane a chance!
My favorite thing about the play is that the three Eleanors, all feminist in their own way, probably would not have been BFFs. I am glad the production was not afraid to show the dramatic differences in their lives and values. Eleanor of Aquitane notes that the blood shed during war fare makes good fertilizer for the soil below while Eleanor Roosevelt passionately states “No one won the last war and no one will win the next!” Eleanor of Aquitane rolls her eyes at ER and says “Don’t be a fool.”
All of the actresses weave in and out of depicting the 3 Eleanors, their critics, admirers and those who had close relationships with the Eleanors such as Lorena Hickock and Duse’s maid and “guardian angels.”
Eleanora Duse is depicted as a dedicated actress that allowed the grief and joys of her characters to inhabit her body as their medium for expression. She also struggled with severe menstrual cramps (I feel you, girl). She seems to be a world away from Eleanor Roosevelt and Eleanor of Aquitane, although I’m sure Duse and Aquitane could mix a Cosmo while dishing out on their love affairs.
Check out Eleanora Duse in action here.
I believe the show lost the audience’s focus during the bits of plot from the 3rd grader writing a report on Aquitane and a high schooler’s out of the blue trip to Planned Parenthood with her English teacher. The relationship between public schools and reproductive health is too complex to mention as an aside. The most compelling aspect of the play was learning more about the Eleanors, not the modern day women that admire them.
Do I recommend you go see this show?
Psssh. YES. 70 rare minutes of three kick-ass women that don’t just talk about boys and makeup. This passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors.