Review: Abe Lincoln in Illinois
Show’s run at Intiman Theatre extended through THURSDAY.
Abe Lincoln was an honest man. Whip smart. Unflaggingly courteous. Lazy, shiftless, suicidal…
Wait, what? In Intiman Theatre’s staging of Abe Lincoln in Illinois E. Sherwood’s 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning play—we are treated to a thoughtful and thoroughly entertaining character study of our 16th president, a man so burdened by internal struggles, the Civil War looked tame in comparison.
The play chronicles 20 years of Honest Abe’s life, from good-natured, gun-toting 24-year-old bumpkin in New Salem, Illinois, to reluctant leader and newly elected president of the United States. Sure, the lanky Lincoln we all know and love is there, infused with a sweet sincerity by Erik Lochtefeld. But what’s fascinating is watching Lochtefeld’s very convincing performance as a troubled Lincoln: one who is debt-ridden, plagued by inertia and self-doubt, and nearly commits suicide when the young love of his life, bar maid Ann Rutledge (Angela DiMarco), dies. Thankfully, the script is bolstered by levity – even some of the president’s own jokes, discovered by Sherwood, that showcase Lincoln’s occasionally not-so-courteous sense of humor.
A coterie of friends surrounds Lincoln, urging him to realize his destiny; apparently, it takes a village to make a president. Special mention goes to Reginald André Jackson, who plays Ninian Edwards, brother-in-law of Mary Todd and son of the governor of Illinois. Though the decision to cast the African-American actor as a white politician is confusing initially, Jackson plays the role with such dexterity he renders the point moot. Also impressive is R. Hamilton Wright’s eloquent turn as Stephen Douglas; the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debate is a highlight of the play, both for its acting and direction.
Lincoln’s adversarial relationship with Mary Todd (Mary Jane Gibson)* is an interesting subplot to the political history unfolding. Costuming by Melanie Taylor Burgess greatly enhances Gibson’s portrayal of an aggressively ambitious, nagging wife; Gibson’s giant hoop skirt seems to enter a room before she does. (See what we’re talking about in the YouTube clip below.)
Whether you’re a history buff or a fan of a good character drama, Abe Lincoln in Illinois won’t disappoint. The show’s run has been extended, with performances on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights at 7:30.