‘From page to stage’: Eleanor Roosevelt comes to life at Marion Art Center

May 1, 2023

MARION — Ten years ago, local playwright Cynthia Krause penned a one-woman show celebrating the life of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Now, thanks to the Marion Art Center’s Playwright Incubator, “An Hour with Eleanor” will finally be in the spotlight. 

The Playwright Incubator takes local, unpublished playwrights and helps bring their ideas “from page to stage,” said program mentor Maura Barry Van Voris.

Maura and the show’s director Richard Van Voris workshopped the play with Krause. 

“We read a lot of applicants [and] when we read [Krause’s] script it really stood out to us both,” said Maura, who has been heavily involved in local, national and international theater.

“An Hour with Eleanor” tells the story of Roosevelt’s time as first lady and her humanitarian work. 

“She was outstanding,” said veteran actress Linda Monchik, who plays the title role. “People revered her in the 20th century. [Others] tried to pull her down because of her physicality, but they couldn’t conquer her kindness or genuine spirit of compassion.”

Krause said she wrote this play in part because “Eleanor has been ignored.” 

“She sacrificed her life for the good of the community and the world,” Krause said, “and I think she needed to have a refocus on her.”

“An Hour with Eleanor” was the first script chosen for the Marion Art Center’s Playwright Incubator program, said Maura. 

For Monchik, the Marion Art Center is a “good place” to put on a play like this one. 

“It’s small, it's intimate, the stakes aren’t that high and yet the sensibility is high,” she said. “People [here] have fine taste in theater, and if you fall, it’s not going to be in the New York Times.”

Since March 2022, Maura and her father have worked with Krause and Monchik to bring the story to life.

The team made cuts, additions and changes to the script, even well into the rehearsal process.

“Once we started listening and hearing the words … it [came] to life a lot more,” said Maura. 

In fact, during a rehearsal on April 21, Monchik collaborated with the production team on the timing for her entrance and what music would play as she walked on stage. 

In order to make a bigger impact on audiences, Maura and her father realized that the show could benefit from images, sound and music.

Music and images “help the actor work off of something,” Maura said. “It helps us, as an audience in the modern age who are so used to images, to see what [life] looked like [in Roosevelt’s time].” 

Richard explained how, throughout the show, images will be projected onto shadow boxes that are “visual reflections” of Roosevelt’s thoughts, ideas and memories.

According to Maura, Monchik undertook an “absolutely extraordinary” amount of background research and text analysis to embody the role of Eleanor Roosevelt. 

“My whole search was to find Eleanor, as it was for [Krause],” said Monchik. “This is a work of art … We bring it together and that’s what makes theater so unique and so beautiful. It's the dance of the production team.”

The debut performance of “An Hour with Eleanor” during South Coast Spring Arts on Saturday, May 13 has sold out. Tickets can still be purchased online for performances on Sunday, May 21 and Sunday, May 28. For more information, visit www.marionartcenter.org/events/eleanor-052123/.