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Glenda Frank


“Eisenhower: This Piece of Ground ” by Richard Hellesen , directed by Peter Ellenstein
The Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46 St., NYC
June 13 through Aug. 20, 2023.
Mon., Thurs. – Sat., 7 PM. Sat., 2 PM, Sun., 3:30 PM.
Running time: 1 hour, 50 min. with one intermission.
$35- 99. Tickets and information at OvationTix.com and EisenhowerThePlay.com.
Premium ticketing is available. For more information, visit EisenhowerThePlay.com.
Reviewed by Glenda Frank

John Rubinstein as Ike. Photo by Maria Baranova

Our divisive, divided country is hungry for peace and unity, but each party has very different views of the solution. Peace and unity are the values Dwight D. Eisenhower, our 34th president (1953–61), espoused all his life. Perhaps that helps explains the popularity of “Eisenhower: This Piece of Ground ” by Richard Hellesen, directed by Peter Ellenstein, at The Theatre at St. Clement’s. Or maybe John Rubinstein’s fan club is larger than I imagined. Rubinstein’s breakout performances in “Pippin” (1972) and “Children of a Lesser God” (1980) are still topics of conversation. And his performance in Hellesen’s play is memorable. He injects drama and intimacy into the folksy, static biodrama, almost by his voice alone although the blocking by director Peter Ellenstein (Artistic Director, New Los Angeles Repertory Company) is subtle and very effective as are projection by Joe Huppert and lighting by Esquire Jauchem.

At rise, Ike is in his living room, fulminating over a recent poll of American presidents by 75 prominent historians, which lists him as 22 out of 31. He’s labeled a great American, an average president. It’s 1962. He is writing a memoir of his time in office but finds he hasn’t the heart to continue. Wife Mamie is away and the grandchildren will visit later, so he has time to fume, make his case and reminisce – about his family, especially his mother, the death of his first born, his liberation of the concentration camps, McCarthy, and his achievements.

John Rubinstein as Ike. Photo by Maria Baranova

It's a history lesson and the material is familiar, but this is a new emphasis.

Hellesen’s Ike is a rancher, proud of his cattle and his home, fond of his childhood memories. Later as the play moves into Eisenhower’s decision to film the liberation of the concentration camps as evidence and his ordering German citizens to walk through the grounds so they could not deny the Holocaust, our impression of the man is barely altered. He makes his case for being ranked higher than James Polk and Andrew Jackson: his support of NATO, his creation of the interstate highways for mobility in case we are attacked, his creation of NASA, his face-to-face with Nikita Khrushchev in the White House, his struggle again American isolationists, his sending federal troops to aid school desegregation, and his balancing the budget year after year. He sees the cost of weapons in terms of new homes and food, certainly a welcome perspective today.

John Rubinstein as Ike. Photo by Maria Baranova

And we understand his actions as president. The general was not a politician; he wasn’t comfortable making deals and scratching backs. He did not take decisive action again McCarthy (“a fascist in a rumpled suit”) although he despised the man and his investigation. He even accepted Richard Nixon, a member of the House Un-American Committee, as his running mate. The biodrama has him raging at Roy Cohn, the infamous, sleazy New York lawyer who was HUAC’s chief counsel. A safe choice.

In a time when powerful people are rewriting history, fostering alternate facts, and censoring books and speech, “Eisenhower: This Piece of Ground” by Richard Hellesen is welcome and should be widely produced, especially on college and school campuses. There are many lines that resonate as a gloss on current politics. And John Rubinstein’s grit and talent deserve standing ovations.

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