Dear Readers, please forgive this tardy reviewer in not attending this production until yesterday, as it approached its final week of its two months limited engagement, but it could neither be helped by my overloaded schedule, nor could my enthusiasm be unexpressed before it being too late for you to attend this extraordinary performance of a master, Tony Award winning actor, Mr. Rubinstein, in a most arresting narrative play by Mr. Hellensen, which is superbly served by its director, Mr. Ellenstein.
When I was 10 years old, my life was altered by my experiencing the first live virtuoso performance I beheld by an actor via Ralph Bellamy portraying Franklin Delano Roosevelt in “SUNRISE AT CAMPOBELLO”. It was the National Tour playing in Chicago in 1959. Mr. Bellamy deservedly won a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor on Broadway and subsequently went on to star in an excellent film adaptation of that multi-award-winning play. That performance is indelible in my memory some 64 years later. Why do I allude to this regarding the play I viewed yesterday afternoon? Because my reaction to it was as powerful with John Rubinstein’s portrayal of Dwight David Eisenhower as I perceived Mr. Bellamy’s F.D R.
Rubinstein’s command of this monumental character in our nation’s and the world’s history rivals that of the play’s subject’s command of the European Theater of War in WWII. You never doubt the veracity of the person addressing the audience as being the 31st President of these United States for a millisecond. And equally important that for nearly two hours one remains riveted by the story that person is compelled to render by the clever narrative device of the playwright in recalling the salient events in his then 73 years at his home at the large farm at Gettysburg. The device being his dictating to a machine in his living room to his publisher on a forthcoming book dealing with his eight years as president just after he’d read the disgruntling news that some 75,” eminent historians” had recently assessed his performance in the White House among the 31 they evaluated in that year of 1962, and that Eisenhower was ranked 22nd among them. “Great man, perhaps, but mediocre president”, was the consensus. That evaluation is significantly modified by the curtain of this highly engaging stage work.
And so, Rubinstein’s Ike, with what could have been the most unattractive of defensive positions, tells his story with what is perceived to be a most candid humility, all the while acknowledging the puissant significance of his role in national and world affairs of immeasurable consequence. Rubinstein’s seemingly effortless simplicity, while addressing some of the most complex events of the 20th century is a study of “artless art”. In particular when speaking of his family, his origins, the values he clearly inherited by his very different but caring parents, his highly accomplished brothers, his enduring marriage to Mamie, the incalculable loss of their first child, and certain events that triggered his deepest passions such as the liberation of the concentration camps at Germany’s surrender, or the Little Rock, Arkansas School crisis when he called in the Army itself to enforce the lawful integration, the audience is permitted to perceive a man of unassailable moral courage and clear justice.
To be sure, One-Man Play that this is, he does not accomplish this alone. Peter Ellenstein’s directing is of the kind that I truly admire most: invisible, never drawing attention to itself, but rather invariably serving the narrative. 50-year veteran of the stage that he is, Rubinstein moves about this perfectly designed environ by MICHAEL DEEGAN with a superb backdrop that at first provides a bay window view of the battlefield of Gettysburg, which morphs in conjunction to the story of various images of persons, and images and events projected by JOE HUPPERT’S visual and Sound Design that harmonize perfectly with whatever Ike recalls at each moment. The lighting of ESQUIRE JAUCHEM ably abets these elements as does the Costuming of SARAH G. CONLY
This play originated last year at the New Los Angeles Repertory Company where Mr. Ellenstein is the Producing Artistic Director. ADAM WEINSTOCK, VICTORIA MORRIS, and ROBINA RICCITIELLLO are the prominent producers who have brought it to New York and should be encouraged to explore the possibilities of a National, and even an International Tour of this remarkable, most worthy work. And perhaps a PBS telecast would wisely be in order as well. At this intensely sensitive time in our nation’s history, when the people’s thirst for integrity, courage and unimpeachable TRUTH cannot be measured, “EISENHOWER: THIS PIECE OF GROUND” could not be more welcome! Catch these last week’s performances: Monday,Thursday,and Friday at 7:00. Matiness Wednesday at 3:00, Saturday at 2:00, and Sunday at 3:30. www.eisenhowertheplay.com
August 14, 2023- Charles E. Gerber -Theatre At St. Clement’s 423 West 46th St. NYC. Starring JOHN RUBINSTEIN in a One-Man Play by RICHARD HELLENSEN
Directed by PETER ELLENSTEIN – CLOSES AUGUST 20TH.