Interview: John Rubinstein on What It’s Prefer to Play “Forgotten President” Dwight Eisenhower5 min read

Rubinstein performs Ike in a solo play now working on the Theatre at St. Clements.

Had John Rubinstein stayed residence after taking part in Grandpa Joe in Charlie and the Chocolate Manufacturing facility on Broadway in 2018, he nonetheless would have left behind a exceptional legacy, together with originating the title function of Pippin in 1972 (after which taking part in Pippin’s father, King Charlemagne within the Tony-winning revival), and successful a Greatest Actor Tony for his efficiency within the groundbreaking Youngsters of a Lesser God.

Luckily, he’s come again to the stage as President Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower within the off-Broadway hit Eisenhower: This Piece of Floor, which has simply began a four-week encore engagement on the Theatre at St. Clements.

TheaterMania not too long ago chatted with Rubinstein on why he needed to do that play, his personal private recollections of Eisenhower, and why – and the place – he desires to proceed performing the present.

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John Rubinstein in Eisenhower: This Piece of Floor on the Theatre at St. Clement’s
(© Maria Baranova)

This interview has been condensed and edited for readability.

Congratulations on a “second time period”! Is it exhausting to go to again to the play after not doing it for just a few weeks?
I’ve achieved that earlier than. In actual fact, after a few 12 months of doing Youngsters of a Lesser God on Broadway, I left for some time and did the play Fools, after which I got here again and did Youngsters for one more 12 months. However right here, there has not been a whole lot of re-preparation. Largely whereas I’m doing my chores, I recite the script out loud to see if I bear in mind it. That’s been about it.

That is your first one-person play. Was that all the time on the bucket checklist?
I’ve had a long-standing curiosity in a one-person play, principally out of sensible considerations. I feel it’s a beautiful technique to make a dwelling, since I don’t have to fret about auditioning. I all the time say auditioning is what I receives a commission for. I all the time thought possibly I’d do one thing the place I may play the piano and sing. At one level, I assumed I may do a present about Jerome Kern, however then I spotted there are individuals extra gifted than me to do a present like that. Then I assumed as a result of I come from a classical music background [Rubinstein’s father is the legendary pianist Arthur Rubinstein], I may do one thing about Gustav Mahler — as a result of I discover him fascinating. However that by no means got here collectively. I even considered a play the place Herman Melville would speak about Moby Dick. After which I obtained provided this play, and my first thought was, “Who would need to see a play about Dwight Eisenhower?”

What modified your thoughts?
Truthfully, once I first learn this play, I simply couldn’t glean simply from the web page if it was one thing that might work in theater or if it will really feel like a lecture. So, [director] Peter Ellenstein and [playwright] Richard Hellesen requested if I’d learn it out loud for them. I admit I’m not an excellent mimic, so I used to be not – and am not — pretending to be Ike. Nonetheless, by the point I completed, all of us agreed it needed to be achieved and I’ve been 150 % dedicated to it ever since.

What are your personal recollections of Eisenhower?
I really met him as soon as by way of my dad. He introduced me and my sister to the White Home and one second, the door simply opened and Ike came visiting and stated, “Good to satisfy you, younger man.” In any other case, I lived by way of each his phrases. I used to be 15 on the finish of presidency, so I had some consciousness of what was occurring and the way he did some superb issues. Whenever you noticed him on TV, he appeared like an avuncular individual. However then got here JFK, who was my technology’s hero, and every thing modified!

So, did you develop up in a pro-Eisenhower family?
My mother and father had been each Polish they usually had a special view of politics. Individuals could not understand my father was Jewish, they usually had been dwelling in Paris in 1939 simply because the Nazis got here to energy. Fortunately, they had been in a position to come to America. As a result of they watched the Russians take over Poland, they had been virulently anti-Communist. That’s what mattered to them — though they had been appalled by what Joe McCarthy did with the blacklist and the HUAC. Finally, nonetheless, they didn’t vote in America or belong to any explicit political occasion.

So, after this run, are you achieved with being Eisenhower?
I hope not. I’d love to have the ability to do that play extra. I’d like to do it in DC and see all of the politicians being dragged to it by their wives. And I’d like to have some Republicans come and study one thing about uplifting. Greater than that, although, I’d love to do that play for college college students, as a result of they need to study — and he too typically will get handed over in instructing. Eisenhower is amongst our forgotten presidents, and I need to change that!

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John Rubenstein (heart) and firm within the authentic Broadway manufacturing of Youngsters of a Lesser God
(© Martha Swope/New York Public Library for the Performing Arts)

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