We often imagine Lincoln to have been an amiable, principled man, worn down by war and illness. Perhaps his own and, certainly, that of his sons and wife. Which is why Brandon McCoy’s Francis makes such a great facsimile of our American Hero. He is congenial. Concerned with the well-being of others. A great speaker who can convey the sacred, lofty words of Lincoln with reverence. And, deeply anguished.
Both men have been driven from this world by human hate and anger; Lincoln through murder and Francis through mental illness.
Once a hardened, strategic political genius despised by his own staff, Francis suffered a “great disappointment” that led to a breakdown. His smart, but lacking-in-savvy, hapless brother Leo (Michael Innocenti) cares for him now while working as a no-name speechwriter to a lackluster politician seeking re-election.
Francis, believing he is honest Abe, recites the speeches of yore publicly in between his new career as a janitor and hobnobbing with a bum he considers his Secretary of War (Stan Shulman). He fears being recommitted and seems set on “emancipating” his brother from the scourge known as D.C.— a place that chews up idealists and cannibalizes hope. He also has friendly run-ins with political powerhouse consultant Harold Daly (also Shulman).
Carla (Susan Marie Rhea), a win-at-all-costs campaign manager from the corporate world, sees Leo as a waste of space. A stuttering speechwriter who is anything but sexy when writing about gerrymandering. Until, aided by Francis. Then Leo writes a couple of ideal-laden, inspiring speeches that borrow from Lincoln, buoying their candidate in the polls and giving them a fighting chance to win.
But, as Francis has learned, winning is losing in American politics.
closes October 14, 2018
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Lincolnesque is a look back at a man and a time and a look at the here and now, when the high-minded words and ethics—integrity, honor— of the 16th President are seen as an innovative take on politicking. The script is funny, full of long runs of dialogue barbed with truths that catch your breath and make you chuckle. It’s also accurate to the bone about D.C.—represented as a series of columns and pillars covered in old newsprint—and updated with a few allusions to the current President. Lincolnesque was written over a decade ago by local playwright John Strand, proving that the insidiousness of politics isn’t a new illness. Heightened, maybe. Not new. And, always dangerous.
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McCoy is a brilliant, loveable Francis. Slightly mischievous and rarely rattled, wearing Lincoln’s words (and a coat with tails) with ease. Also whip smart and kind, illness or not, even when offering his couch to the bum. Innocenti is an excellent foil to this—his Leo is uptight, cautious, controlled. Almost snivelly. It’s not that he’s unlikable. He’s just unnoticeable, something Carla makes clear. Rhea is pitch-prefect as the aggressive, calculated campaign manager who, having danced with mental illness closely, calls Francis out on his. And Shulman, doing double duty, swings effortlessly from the powerless to all-powerful. Rhea, Innocenti, and Shulman are all revising their roles from Keegan’s 2009 debut of the play—and it shows, especially how they clip through the material crisply and cleanly. But McCoy holds his own against the veterans as a standout and is a superb manifestation of the complexities of America.
“I like to write about the things that matter, whether they matter emotionally, or whether they matter dramatically, or whether they matter politically.” – John Strand talking with DCTS
In politics, DC does not hand out many happy endings, and Francis’ fantasy of a better world, a better life, where integrity and decency reign is as far fetched as it was 10 years ago and likely will be 10 years from now. The current era of politics is long from over and its foundation was lain long before we will admit.
“Lincoln was a liar,” Carla tells Francis, “a politician just like the rest of them.” She then reminds us how he suspended habeas corpus, which sent thousands of men to jail unfairly. Yes, he took away freedom for a time, even while urging us to be better angels. That’s the problem with heroes and history. Once we carve a man in stone, we forget his humanity—why he called on us to be better than him in the first place. Lincolnesque has already proven itself timeless. And this run seems as timely as ever.
Lincolnesque by John Strand . Directed by Colin Smith. Featuring Brandon McCoy, Michael Innocenti, Susan Marie Rhea, and Stan Shulman. Production: Matthew J. Keenan, Set design; Megan Thrift, Lighting Design; Veronica J. Lancaster, Sound/Production Design; Kiana Vincenty, Costume Design; Rich Ching, Assistant Soundf/Projection Design; Cindy Landrum Jacobs, Properties/Set Dressing Design; Craig Miller, Hair/Makeeup Design; Magenta Howard, Assistant Stage Manager; and Carolina Chaimovich, Assistant Stage Manager. Stage Managed by Allison Poms. Produced by Keegan Theatre . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.