Debi Pittman Wilkey
Fringe Festival: ‘Alice Roosevelt Longworth’ is ready to talk turkey
By Erin Williams
Monday, July 18, 2011
If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to Alice Roosevelt Longworth.
The 81-year-old eldest daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt has a lot to get off her chest, and she doesn’t hold her tongue about anyone in the walk-through-history stage production written by Kitty Felde and directed by Stevie Zimmerman, “Alice: An Evening With Alice Roosevelt Longworth,” based on her life and times. She’s portrayed by a sassy and boisterous Joy Davidson.
The one-woman play transitions from teatime with Longworth into the ultimate beyond-the-grave father-daughter conversation; Father is heard in a voice-over by Will Cooke. Longworth, born in 1884, has been invited by her friend and “current” president, Richard Nixon, to attend his daughter Tricia’s wedding. As the last bride to have a wedding at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., back in 1906, Longworth goes back and forth between fielding calls from the press asking for anecdotes from her wedding (she remembers “not a [mild epithet] thing,” or so she tells Newsweek) to bashing her husband and his womanizing ways. Longworth clearly couldn’t stand her husband’s behavior, but the Ohio congressman did have one saving grace: He played father to Longworth’s daughter Paulina, who, it is hinted, may have been conceived out of wedlock.
Longworth is constantly chided about this possible indiscretion and the fact that she could have been a more supportive mother to her daughter by Theodore Roosevelt’s booming voice, which gradually overwhelms Longworth’s thoughts. Toward the end, the conversation becomes almost vivid enough that one might expect T.R. to rise from the grave and start wagging his finger at his devil-may-care daughter, between discussing her sorrowful childhood; her antics, chronicled play-by-play in the press; and her strained relationship with her do-good cousin (and wife of Franklin) Eleanor. Ultimately she asks whether, despite her shortcomings, T.R. really did love her (which, in the play, he says he did, of course).
Ultimately, the play, produced by the Alice Roosevelt Longworth Project at the Mountain at Mount Vernon United Methodist Church, gives insight into a unique life lived by a woman who wanted to enjoy her time on Earth as much as possible — and never failed to embody the take-charge spirit of the man whose memory would follow her all of her days.