Behind the scenes: All about Eleanor at Compass Rose in Annapolis

Wendi Winters
Contact Reporterwwinters@capgaznews.com
Take a look at the actress portraying Eleanor Roosevelt at Compass Rose Theatre.

Former longtime Annapolis resident Sue Struve returns to the Compass Rose Theater stage in her award-winning role as Eleanor Roosevelt in Eleanor: Her Secret Journey, by Rhonda Lerman, and directed by Rick Wade.

In addition to the former first lady, Struve voices 16 other, diverse characters; some historical, some fictional. Three years ago, Struve moved to Silver Spring to be closer to her workplace and the Capitol City theater scene.

What did you know about Eleanor Roosevelt before you were cast in this role?

I knew she was the wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt for a long time, and during his three terms as president. She was known for her humanitarian work, being FDR's eyes and ears, and being out in the field for him.

What did you learn about her that surprised you?

Well, she may be the only first lady who had two cousins serve as president. FDR and Teddy were her cousins. And, from reading the play, I discovered she didn't start out being this confident woman who had no compunctions about going out and doing things, despite the strict social mores of the time. She was shy. Her own mother called her "Granny." She had no official schooling until she went to England to study under Mme. Souvestre.

I learned about FDR's infidelities and how his decades-long affair with Lucy Mercer made Eleanor a stronger woman. She decided to go on in spite of the affair and their marriage became a platonic relationship. She became his adviser in addition to being first lady. She tried to make a difference and fight social injustices of the time.

Why is she relevant today?

She is a shining example of following through on one's convictions. "You must do the thing you think you cannot do," she said. During World Wars I and II, especially WWII, she was out there ministering to wounded soldiers. She was brought up in a rich New York family, but gained some perspective and realized she could right some wrongs around her in society.

In today's world, could she have successfully run for office? President, perhaps?

Yes. I don't know if that would have crossed her mind then, as, in her time, it was all about men having the power. She had good political sense and was pretty astute about what was going on and perceptive about the personalities in politics. She knew what was going on in the world, what was wrong and what needed changing. She was used to public speaking, too.

What did you have to do to "become" Eleanor?

I haven't "become" Eleanor, I'm trying to provide some essence of Eleanor. I don't look like her, I sound similar to her because I practiced her voice, inflection and accent. I listened to audio of her, and saw some film. I watched Ken Burn's firm "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History," a seven part, 14-hour series on PBS; and have done a fair amount of reading. The director, Rick Wade, has been a font of information about the Roosevelts and the period.

What do you want to impart to the audience about Eleanor?

What I love about this play and this production are the many facets of Eleanor and the other people that are revealed — and that we all have them in us. In sometimes arduous circumstances a person can still stay strong and do the right thing for others. And, even be strengthened by adverse circumstances.

How much dialogue did you have to memorize? How do you do it?

This is a one-person play, one hour and 10 minutes long. I had to memorize about 29 pages of script. I first performed this play last summer. I started memorizing four or five months ahead. I had to work on it every spare moment I had and took the script everywhere I went: to bed, to work, on the Metro, to lunch. By the time rehearsals started, I had memorized it. This year, I had to re-memorize it. It went a lot faster, though. However, there were a lot of adjustments to the work which had to be learned. It's not the same show as last year. It's a more polished production.

What other roles have you performed recently?

I portrayed Ruth Steiner in Collected Stories for Peter's Alley Theatre in Arlington and, before that, Miss Laetitia Prism in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest for Annapolis Shakespeare Company this spring.

Are you a full-time actor?

No, I have a day job at a non-profit membership organization in D.C.

What motivates you to perform?

What used to motivate me was the feedback from the audience. Now, it's the opportunity to share experiences and emotions from one human to many others.

Eleanor: Her Secret Journey

Onstage at Compass Rose Theater, 49 Spa Road, Annapolis, through Oct. 9. Admission: $38, Military and Seniors $33, Students $23. For tickets or information, call the box office at 410-980-6662 or visit www.compassrosetheatre.org.

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