I was fishing with a friend of mine on Mud Creek in Abilene, talking about what we wanted to be when we grew up. I said, “I want to be a real major league baseball player, like Honus Wagner–he makes five thousand dollars a year just for doing what’s fun. What about you?” He said, “I want to be President of the United States.” Neither of us got our wish.
I didn’t know much about our 34th president. It’s been a number of years since high school so anything that was taught, left my mind when I graduated. Tony award-winner John Rubinstein (Children of a Lesser God) makes up for it in a little over an hour, talking about everything. Politics, family life, his role in history, no topic is forbidden. The show opens with the former president standing in a cluttered living room, with a large collection of books in his library, which looks like every book ever written at the time, in his sprawling estate he shares with his wife, Mary Geneva “Mamie” (née) Doud. The First Lady has stepped out for some much needed shopping. Nearby are a set of expensive looking golf clubs with a huge backyard to play a game or two.
In displaying his artistic side, there’s an unfinished painting on an easel he works on. Life after the presidency isn’t so bad. The one thing that irks him is the insistence from a pesky New York Times reporter constantly reminding Eisenhower to dictate his life story. Reluctantly, he pulls out the tape recorder and begins speaking. You can tell he’s not happy.
Even though he feels annoyed in dictating, his ego won’t let him rest. That same reporter listed 33 of the best presidents. Eisenhower was number 22. He’s dumbfounded on such a low rating. He wasn’t expecting to be number one, but, to be at the bottom, that’s downright insulting! This is where he states his case on why he should have at least be in the top 1o. He recalls that it was James K. Polk who started the Mexican War. He respected Franklin D. Roosevelt, but wasn’t fond of John F. Kennedy. However, if JFK needed anything, Eisenhower would be there.
A surprising revelation revealed that Ike didn’t want to become president. He would have been perfectly satisfied staying home either playing rounds of golf or painting. In office, Eisenhower made it his mission to eliminate communism and diminish federal spending. It was ridiculously high during his reign.
He relentlessly tried to end the Korean War with no budget. Bless the man for trying. Rubenstein showed both the kind tenderness as a father of two boys, Doud (September 24, 1917 – January 2, 1921) and John (August 3, 1922 – December 21, 2013) grandfather of four, while maintaining his no nonsense attitude as president. He was able to switch between the roles swiftly and with ease. He does have a temper and has a take no prisoners attitude, but, doesn’t take it home. I doubt Miss Mamie would tolerate that. Their marriage lasted 52 years until Eisenhower’s death in 1969 from congestive heart failure at age 78.
Rubinstein took command of this role. He was very charismatic but strong-willed without coming off as overbearing. He made Eisenhower’s story come alive with such passion and swagger. I was hooked from the first line to the last. This one-man show is a definite go see. Personally, I was in awe of his mesmerizing and intriguing performance. Writer Richard Hellesen (Necessary Sacrifices, The Road From Appomattox) wrote a hell of a great script, complete with witty and priceless Eisenhower anecdotes, such as “if you can’t respect the office, you deserve to be at the bottom.” In his case, Eisenhower should have been higher than number 22 on the ranking of presidents. Just saying!
What I Discovered
Eisenhower’s full name was David Dwight Eisenhower. He went by his middle name so there wasn’t any confusion with his father, David Jacob Eisenhower (1863–1942). All seven boys were nicknamed Ike. His older brother Edgar Newton Eisenhower (January 19, 1889 – July 12, 1971) went by “Big Ike” and Eisenhower was called “Little Ike.” In his presidential campaign in 1956, buttons were made saying, “I Like Ike.”
EISENHOWER: This Piece of Ground, plays at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre, located at 6539 Santa Monica Blvd, in Los Angeles, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., ends Sunday, January 22nd, for tickets log-on www.onstage411.com, running time: 1 hour and 5 minutes, 15-minute intermission.