We don't know much about our country's first ladies and, if we are to believe Elision Theatre's smashingly entertaining "First Lady Suite," what we do "know" is mostly wrong.

Michael John LaChiusa's chamber musical is really four short musicals, each featuring the wife of a president from the middle of the 20th century: Jackie Kennedy, Mamie Eisenhower, Bess Truman and Eleanor Roosevelt. She's not always the main character in her section of the show, but each mini-musical imagines what it was like to be her or to be in her orbit.

The best piece is the Roosevelt one, "Eleanor Sleeps Here," in which she's a subsidiary character and in which Greta Grosch is sensational as Lorena Hickok, a journalist who was a friend, mentor — and, some say, lover — of Roosevelt. LaChiusa envisions Hickok as a sort of spurned woman, who helped re-create Roosevelt in her own image, as a dedicated public servant. Grosch finds all of those colors and more in the bemused/wounded torch song "Eleanor Sleeps Here." It's a big ballad of loss in which Hickok tells us she knew she was destined to be ignored the moment Roosevelt took center stage at the inauguration.

"Eleanor" is also funny — the premise is that Roosevelt and Hickok are learning to fly from ball-gown-clad pilot Amelia Earhart — and so is much of "First Lady Suite." The Truman section is just one song that puts us squarely on the side of first daughter Margaret Truman (Abilene Olson, a more accomplished singer than the real Margaret). Poor Margaret tries to perform a recital while her crass mother (Grosch) honks her nose, unwraps candy and claps at the wrong places in an attempt to hustle her attention-stealing daughter off stage.

"Where's Mamie" takes a similarly dim view of its subject, a Mamie Eisenhower who's more like a spoiled kid than a semi-official potentate. She prattles on as opera singer Marian Anderson (Ilah Raleigh, singing with dignity, beauty and power) describes her battles with racism. LaChiusa's Mamie, played with glee by Sara Sawyer, comes off as a flibbertigibbet who, like all of these first ladies, spends much of her time in the White House vainly "waiting for a normal life."

Sawyer also plays Kennedy, who's mostly the subject of complaints from her frazzled secretary, Mary Gallagher (effervescent Christine Wade) in a scene set on the day of John F. Kennedy's assassination.

Everyone in the "First Lady Suite" cast deftly handles multiple roles, with Sawyer creating distinctive characterizations for all of the first ladies except Grosch's Truman. The songs are inventive and varied, with accompaniment provided by pianist Harrison Wade, whose fingers never get a break in the 90-minute show.

Except for a brief appearance by Dwight D. Eisenhower (Paul Coate), the commanders in chief are commanders in absentia in "First Lady Suite," which amusingly and poignantly makes the case that we should pay more attention to the human women who call the White House home.

'First Lady Suite'

Who: By Michael John LaChiusa. Directed by Lindsay Fitzgerald.

When: 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Sat. Ends May 6.

Where: Elision Playhouse, 6105 42nd Av. N., Crystal.

Tickets: $38, elisionproductions.com.