Considering the “All Things Lincoln” ubiquitous themes and celebrations in the city all year marking his bicentennial (1809-2009), and the re-opening of the Ford’s Theatre Museum, this production fits right in. With a cast of 7, it’s on a larger scale than many Fringe productions, a rather fitting testament to the scope and scale of the issues involved. Conducted as a “reading of a radio play,” the characters relay a “real time” sense of urgency, and the director Roland Branford Gomez keeps the pacing of the historical events at a steady clip. All the usual players and suspects pertaining to Lincoln lore are included, but with the fascinating twist and perspective of him wrestling with his faith.
Mark Lee Adams does a fine turn as the steady and unflappable leader who has his moments of wrestling out the best decision for the moment despite the derision and scorn that would result. The script shows how he was buffeted at every turn by trusted allies who turn hostile, the mounting casualties of an increasingly intractable war, and a relatively new nation defining concepts such as freedom and equality while immersed in slavery.
Lincoln used words of faith for inspiration and solace. The text gets across the inner strength of this fascinating leader, whose succinct words still have the power to inspire and empower a nation. Both the Gettysburg address and his second inaugural address are so brief that they are included in the script and demonstrate his overwhelming sense of truth to power.
Rebecca Lenehan as Mary Todd Lincoln has a prominent role in showing the human side of the stoic leader and the divisive turmoil of the war since she had family and loved ones on both sides. Their relationship in dealing with the loss of their child also shows his tender side. In one touching scene, Lincoln is chided by a cabinet member for participating in a séance, knowing that the “spiritual advisor” is a shaming charlatan, to hear from their son Willie from beyond, but Lincoln responds he will partake in anything to bring his wife some peace and comfort.
The script skillfully weaves in the history as part of the action so it’s clear and accessible, rather than have it fall into pedantic mire. Through news flashes and discussions among the characters, we learn how the Emancipation Proclamation was considered an “empty” document since it “freed” slaves that the Union did not control. Most fascinating is the sense of the emergence of God and duty as Lincoln analyzes the pros and cons in making horrendous decisions to save the Union, no matter what the consequences. His theoretical discussions with one of the characters, Rev. Gurley (John Shackelford), provides an intimate look at Lincoln’s conceptual analysis and emerging positions. The characters also note the number of times “God” is mentioned in his speeches in comparison to previous presidents and leaders, and there’s an interesting reference to John Wilkes Booth’s referral to God’s will and trust.
Lincoln and God serves as a wonderful rendering of the power of faith to prevail despite unimaginable scorn and adversity along the way.