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Roosevelt's Long Soak


About two-thirds of the way through HBO's Warm Springs, four women, all confined to wheelchairs by polio, dance for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt (Kenneth Branagh and Cynthia Nixon) and other patients of the polio rehabilitation facility that Roosevelt is creating at a former vacation spa in Warm Springs, Ga.

Some may recognize the dancer singing "I Won't Dance" as Felicia Day of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" fame. Playing a onetime ballerina with scars on her wrists, Day is joined by Margo Gathright-Dietrich, Teal Sherer and Laurel Lawson. The three dancers are all veterans of Atlanta's Full Radius Dance, a "physically integrated" dance company (including both physically disabled and able-bodied dancers) founded and run by artistic director Douglas Scott, who choreographed the wheelchair dance in Warm Springs.

Like the Full Radius dancers, Roosevelt is a testament to the dreams and achievements available to those who have lost the physical abilities most take for granted. Not that Franklin was some Pollyanna who never bemoaned his fate. Spanning the years from Franklin's affliction with polio at age 39 in 1921 until his return to the political stage in 1928, Warm Springs depicts a self-absorbed, philandering playboy whose affliction has broken his body and spirit, leaving a self-pitying, bitter man. But, buoyed by the waters of Warm Springs, Roosevelt remakes himself.

A syndicated newspaper story about Roosevelt's progress draws polio survivors to the spa from across the country, and many are able to substantially rehabilitate themselves. In a cruel bit of irony, Roosevelt himself recovers only limited physical abilities.

His spirit is another matter. The implicit contention of Warm Springs is that Roosevelt would not have become the great leader we remember today without the time he spent in Warm Springs. It's here that the son of privilege is first treated like a second-class citizen by the "regular" vacationers, who insist that the polio survivors eat in a separate dining room and stay out of the pool. It's here that Franklin, a graduate of Harvard and Columbia universities, fumbles for words at a graduation ceremony held in a decrepit one-room schoolhouse. And it's here that Franklin comes to know the plight of the African-Americans who lift him into and from the water. Sat., April 30. 8 p.m.


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