An illuminating tour-de-force performance in ‘Eisenhower: This Piece of Ground’ at Off-Broadway’s Theatre at St. Clement’s

A poll was conducted by historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. of Harvard University in 1962, surveying 75 noted historians as to how they would rank the US Presidents in order of competence. The results were published in an article in the Sunday magazine section of The New York Times on July 29 of that year (see “Our Presidents: A Rating by 75 Historians”). America’s 34th President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, came in 22nd (out of 31) on the list, and his fervent reaction to that unfavorable ranking is the factually based historical premise of the new one-man play Eisenhower: This Piece of Ground, presented by The New Los Angeles Repertory Company and now playing a limited Off-Broadway engagement at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, following its critically acclaimed premiere in LA.

John Rubinstein. Photo by Maria Baranova.

Researched and directed by New LA Rep’s producing artistic director Peter Ellenstein and adapted by playwright Richard Hellesen (the two are decades-long collaborators) from a wide range of Ike’s extant memoirs, letters, and speeches, the fictionalized show is set during a single day in August 1962, inside the Eisenhower Farm in Gettysburg, PA, when an irritated Ike decides to tape-record his response to Schlesinger and associates for the “mediocre and inept” rating they gave him, in preparation for a new book he’s writing.

In a stellar return to St. Clement’s (where he was last seen in November 2021, in Morning’s at Seven), Tony winner John Rubinstein delivers a tour-de-force solo performance in the role of Eisenhower. He reflects on his life and career, from his background and family, his education at West Point, service in the US Army and rise to the rank of General, his post-war presidency at Columbia University, leadership at NATO, and two-terms as US Commander-in-Chief, from 1953-61, despite his insistence that he never really wanted to be President. He also considers, among other topics, what he learned and what attributes he inherited from his parents, how much his wife Mamie contributed to their marriage and his work, his greatest achievements and biggest mistakes in politics (explaining why he did what he did at the time), his feelings about his colleagues, opponents, and predecessors (especially those who were ranked higher than he was!), his concerns about the “military-industrial complex,” and most significantly for current audiences and voters, what qualities and actions constitute a great leader.

John Rubinstein. Photo by Maria Baranova.

And he does it all with total fluency, concentration, and expressiveness, while moving actively around the stage, taking phone calls, pouring himself a cup of coffee or a drink, shifting his emotions from angry and frustrated to contemplative, nostalgic, and loving, from satisfied with his achievements to regretful about his decisions, and always committed to his ideals, as conveyed in his face, gestures, and body language, and the tone of his voice.

Rubinstein’s thoroughly convincing, passionate, and captivating embodiment of Eisenhower is supported by apropos business and casual clothes of the era (with Sarah G. Conly serving as costume consultant), a tastefully appointed scenic design (by Michael Deegan), with period-style furnishings and props (including an over-sized vintage tape recorder and rotary-dial desk phone), and projections (by Joe Huppert) on the back wall of the set that show the expansive grounds and golf course of the Eisenhower Farm, changing light and weather that shift with the time of day and moods (from a sunny sky to a foreboding thunderstorm), and old black-and-white photos of Eisenhower and the well-known people and family members he discusses. They are enhanced by a natural lighting design (by Esquire Jauchem) and sound (by Huppert) that includes voice-overs of speeches at the beginning of each act before Rubinstein enters the stage.

John Rubinstein. Photo by Maria Baranova.

Eisenhower: This Piece of Ground is not just an illuminating view of the man, his background, and his presidency, it’s an indicator of the moral principles that guided him in his dedication to doing what he believed was right, and a valuable lesson in the importance of compromise, both then and now, in our deeply divided country. Go for John Rubinstein’s outstanding performance and consider the select words and ideals he delivers from Ike, which resonate beyond partisan politics, speak to working for the common good, and advocate to “choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong” (a quote that’s been attributed to Mormon leader Thomas S. Monson).

You might also be inspired to do some additional reading on Eisenhower’s less enlightened policies – including his homophobic 1953 Executive Order 10450, known as the “Lavender Scare” (an expansion of the “Red Scare” of the repressive McCarthyism of his time), which banned gays from working in the federal government and caused the firing of approximately 5,000 people – that weren’t mentioned in the show and aren’t deserving of such a positive portrayal.

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 50 minutes, including an intermission.

Eisenhower: This Piece of Ground plays through Sunday, August 20, 2023, at the Theatre at St.Clement’s, 423 West 46th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $61-158.50, including fees), go online. Masks are not required.

Before you go, you can watch the trailer below:


  1. It was just announced that following the performance on Monday, July 10, Rubinstein will invite audience members to remain in their seats for a special talkback. The event will feature special guests, including Anne Brownell Sloane, former President of The Eisenhower Foundation and daughter of President Eisenhower’s Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr.

  2. By popular demand, the critically acclaimed show has just been extended from its original closing date of July 30, to Sunday, August 20.

  3. Two additional Monday night talkbacks have been added to the schedule, on July 31 and August 7, following the show. The July 31st event will feature playwright Richard Hellesen and director Peter Ellenstein. Following the August 7th performance, Hellesen returns for a special talkback event with Stephen Hauge, President of The Eisenhower Foundation, whose father, Dr. Gabriel S. Hauge, served as Special Assistant for Economic Affairs during the Eisenhower Administration.

  4. Following an acclaimed run this summer, Tony Award winner John Rubinstein will return for a four-week Off-Broadway engagement of Eisenhower: This Piece of Ground, playing October 2-27, 2023.


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