Saturday, June 4, 2011

Theater review: Asner's 'FDR' is a date that will live in boredom

Ed Asner as Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


By Hap Erstein


Let’s start with the stipulation that I really do not care for one-person shows,‭ ‬which are almost invariably undramatic recitations of facts,‭ ‬delivered to unseen characters in a series of phone calls,‭ ‬often with no theatrical context.‭

There are a few exceptions‭ ‬--‭ ‬Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain,‭ ‬Vincent Price’s Oscar Wilde‭ ‬--‭ ‬but Ed Asner’s Franklin Roosevelt is not among them.

FDR is a creaky,‭ ‬dry-as-dust history lesson,‭ ‬exactly the sort of lazy writing that gives these monodramas a bad name,‭ ‬and nothing about Asner’s performance redeems the evening.

On tour across the country as a reminder of the positive achievements of a liberal president who bullied his way through depressing economic times and a world war‭ ‬--‭ ‬Are you listening,‭ ‬Barack‭? ‬--‭ ‬the show plays at the Caldwell Theatre in Boca Raton through Sunday afternoon.‭ ‬Unless you really feel the need to see seven-time Emmy winner Asner live onstage,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬you will not be missing much if you take a pass on‭ ‬FDR.

It was written‭ ‬more than‭ ‬30‭ ‬years ago by the late Dore Schary,‭ ‬whose best-known play,‭ ‬Sunrise at Campobello,‭ ‬examined Roosevelt’s struggles with polio prior to his four-term presidency with much more dramatic vigor.‭ ‬This follow-up work,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬is little more than a name-dropper of cabinet members,‭ ‬sketchy accounts of his presidential election campaigns and tales of his exploits leading the nation out of The Great Depression and through World War II.

If you are interested in learning about these topics in depth,‭ ‬stay home and read a book.‭

Other than his own liberal fervor,‭ ‬Asner is hardly anyone’s image of Roosevelt.‭ ‬At‭ ‬81,‭ ‬he is nearly two decades older than FDR was when he died.‭ ‬Asner takes a crack at Roosevelt’s patrician accent,‭ ‬but the results wobble between British,‭ ‬the American South and pure Lou Grant.‭ ‬Although he has been on the road with the show for the past year,‭ ‬Asner stumbled over some of his lines at Wednesday evening’s performance and his energy flagged on occasion during the hour-and-three-quarter intermissionless performance.‭

According to Caldwell artistic director Clive Cholerton,‭ ‬tickets have sold well for the week of performances,‭ ‬so maybe the booking has helped the theater’s bottom line.‭ ‬It has done nothing to help the Boca company’s reputation.‭

FDR,‭ ‬starring Ed Asner.‭ ‬Caldwell Theatre Company,‭ ‬7901‭ ‬N.‭ ‬Federal Highway,‭ ‬Boca Raton.‭ ‬Through Sunday,‭ ‬June‭ ‬5.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$40-$75.‭ ‬Call:‭ ‬(561‭) ‬241-7432.‭

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