Though she was known as "First Friend" in Franklin Delano Roosevelt's White House, Lorena Hickok actually was the first lady’s lesbian lover, and is the subject of "Hick: A Love Story: The Romance of Lorena Hickok and & Eleanor Roosevelt,” a compelling one-woman show thoroughly researched, written and performed by Terry Baum.
Onstage in free performances at the Eureka Theatre, the show, presented by the Crackpot Crones and Theatre Rhinoceros, tells the tale of the women's longtime relationship from Hickok's detailed point of view. And Hickok, an acclaimed Associated Press “gal” reporter who fell in love with Eleanor the moment she was assigned to cover FDR's first presidential campaign, was good at details. She shares her insights and feelings clearly, honestly and with passion.
Although Baum, playing Hickok, is perhaps a stronger storyteller than actress, she paints a complete picture of the little-known affair, which began in 1932 on the campaign trail, when Hick immediately finds herself attracted to the candidate's wife. In a sweet and touching scene when she confesses her feelings, she's both surprised and ecstatic to find they are reciprocated, and thrilled to have a job that allows her to "follow around the great love" of her life.
After FDR wins, the romance amazingly continues, and Hick even has a place to stay at the White House. She quits the AP and gets a job as a field investigator for the New Deal. Yet despite their love, pressures mount: Eleanor has public duties, Hick feels like she's losing her individuality.
A good portion of the material in "Hick" comes from the women's longtime correspondence. Eleanor appears in voiceovers, by Paula Barish, and her loving, powerful words are taken verbatim from real letters – there were more than 2,000 – she wrote to Hickok until her death in 1962.
The show's drama plays out on an appealing set designed by Vola Ruben, with cursive handwriting of those letters on a wall backdrop, and furnishings that suggest a newspaper office, Hick's apartment, the White House and the campaign train.
Directed crisply by Carolyn Myers, Baum inhabits the scenery with movement and ease, aided by impeccable sound by Audrey Howard and lighting by Stephanie Anne Johnson.
Baum, who based the show on a 1984 play by Pat Bond, clearly created "Hick: A Love Story" as a labor of love; her sentiment shines through a fascinating story that, at last, has come to light.
Hick: A Love Story
Where: Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; closes July 27