A Stage Review of FDR: the Man Who Gave America its Future
By Ed Tasca
Reviewed by J. C. Kottler
In honor of Franklyn Delano Roosevelt’s 130th Birthday celebration, the Lake Chapala Chapter of Democrats Abroad presented a marvelous celebration of his life, the one act play, FDR: the Man who Gave America its Future. It was no easy task to condense 20 years in only 20 minutes.
Writer Ed Tasca solved this problem by giving thematic unity to the play, concentrating on FDR’s unflinching optimism in the face of intractable problems. FDR bravely conquered one Gargantuan dilemma after another, fighting through disabling polio, unwinable elections, the Great Depression, and WWII. FDR’s outstanding quality was his unflinching optimism, and this is what the play celebrates. The play’s writing was constantly entertaining, humorous, and surprising in its twists and turns.
The cast was uniformly excellent. Ed Tasca obviously loved playing FDR, and had the time of his life portraying him. FDR loved the center stage, a one man party who made other politicians look like they were attending a wake by comparison. Mr. Tasca was so enamored with the role that after the play was over, he sat in the wheelchair, not in a regular chair. I had to remind him that he wasn’t FDR anymore. Mr. Tasca sighed and then smiled. What could be more fun than becoming the spirit of FDR?
Valerie Siegel, as Eleanor Roosevelt, captured her personality, proper but caring, accommodating yet incisive. I truly believed she was Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR’s constant support, his “eyes and ears” to the public, and, just as important, his conscience.
Harry Walker gave an intelligent reading as Harry Hopkins, emphasizing his humanity and world weary attention to detail. As the lesser known Frances Perkins, the first female Cabinet member, Curly Lieberman gave an incisive performance, concentrating on her industriousness with just a touch of maitronliness. Fred Koesling, as the narrator, set the proper tone by sounding just like a narrator from a 1930s newsreel.
Director Betty Lloyd Robinson kept the action moving briskly, keeping the attention on character. The consistent excellence of the performers is a sure sign of a good director.
The play starts with an introduction to the roaring 20’s, and what better way to do it than with a Charleston. The dancers, Alexis Huff and Valerie Jones, are obviously professionals. They wowed the audience, ably supported by Daphne Peerless.
The play then shifts to a week before the 1936 election. The opposition is calling Roosevelt a “socialist“ (reminding us of the same charge against Obama). The author humorously references many modern day problems to FDR‘s problems, emphasizing their universality.
Pollsters have decided that Roosevelt doesn’t have a chance in the coming election. Eleanor is concerned. Secretary of Labor Perkins is downright pessimistic. But Franklyn Delano Roosevelt never doubts the outcome, his infectious optimism overcoming all obstacles.
The play points out that the greatness of Roosevelt comes from the strength of his character, like our other greatest Presidents, Washington and Lincoln. Their character traits were amazingly different. Washington was the military man with so much integrity that he refused being King of the Americas. Lincoln, the most intelligent of the three, suffered from depression, which he carefully kept from the public. Roosevelt was the aristocrat who “betrayed his class.” His radiant personality sustained him and the entire nation through many of its darkest days. They all had the most important quality in a President, the ability to never lose sight of the ultimate goal, no matter what the secondary problems. Whether it was starting a new nation, preventing that nation from breaking up, or saving that nation from the Great Depression and Nazis, our three greatest Presidents never gave up. They never lost sight of their ultimate goal.
Luckily, FDR: the Man who Gave America its Future, never lost sight of its ultimate goal, quality entertainment. A longer version of the play will be performed in Puerto Vallarta in May.