Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Review: The Widow Lincoln

(Image courtesy of Ford's Theatre)

Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure to attend a performance of the play The Widow Lincoln at the historic Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.  The play was written by James Still and was directed by Stephen Rayne and follows Mary Lincoln during the difficult days following the death of her husband President Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865.  The Widow Lincoln begins a series of theater productions and exhibits produced by Ford's Theatre as part of the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's assassination.

Mary Lincoln played by Mary Bacon (Image courtesy of Ford's Theatre, photo taken by Carol Rosegg)

The setting for The Widow Lincoln could not have been more appropriate and with my seat being in the first row of the balcony next to the Presidential box where President Lincoln was shot by actor John Wilkes Booth I could feel the history swirling around me.  Actress Mary Bacon is masterful as Mary Lincoln.  Playing the complex First Lady is a challenging role for any actress, but Mary Bacon fleshed out the personality of Mary Lincoln and never descended into caricature.  As a young lady Mary Lincoln was described by a friend as having the temperament of a spring day, all sunshine and smiles one moment quickly followed a rain of tears the next, a quality that Mary Bacon accurately portrayed in The Widow Lincoln.  Mary Bacon's performance is enhanced by James Still's lyrical dialogue.  James Still knows how to pull on the emotions of the audience.  The moment when Mary Lincoln removed her black velvet cloak to reveal her blood stained gown was dramatic and shocking.  It was like the audience had been transported back to April 1865.  

Mary Lincoln played by Mary Bacon (Image courtesy of Ford's Theatre, photo taken by Carol Rosegg) 

The Widow Lincoln opens in the dark dream world Mary Lincoln entered after the death of her husband.  Finding herself watching the shooting of her husband from the backstage of Ford's Theatre during the production of Our American Cousin.   Returning to the White House, Mary wakes from her dream, confronting the reality that her husband is dead.  Locked away from the outside world, Mary is comforted by her dressmaker and confidant Elizabeth Keckly, played by Caroline Clay.  Refusing to leave her bedroom to attend her husband's funeral Mary tests the patience of those around her in particular a young maid played by Brynn Tucker.  Though difficult at times, Mary Lincoln had an endearing personality, and was a very kind woman.  Qualities that Mary Bacon brought to her performance, particularly with Mary Lincoln's relationship with a young solider tasked with guarding her played by Melissa Graves.

 Mary Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckly played by Mary Bacon and Caroline Clay (Image courtesy of Ford's Theatre, photo taken by Carol Rosegg)
Mary Lincoln's grief is palpable and is beautifully portrayed by Mary Bacon.  Not only has Mary Lincoln lost the love of her life but she is now adrift in the world without her anchor and protector.  Throughout the play, Mary questions what is to become of her--a question that no one is able to answer.  The 19th-century was an unfair time for widows, particularly for women who had once been prominent based on the status of their husbands.  Since she was a young girl, Mary Lincoln had dreamed that she would be the wife of the president of the United States.  Through her marriage to Abraham Lincoln she achieved her goal--only to have her position and security in life to be stripped away in one heartbreaking moment.  The realization that she was no longer the First Lady Lincoln, but the Widow Lincoln was a devastating moment for Mary Lincoln.

Laura Keene and Mary Lincoln, played by Kimberly Schraf and Mary Bacon (Image courtesy of  Ford's Theatre, photo taken by Carol Rosegg)    

Unable to leave the White House, Mary Lincoln desperately searches for any sign of her husband.  Throughout the play she is visited by the visions of actress Laura Keene (Kimberly Schraf), Queen Victoria (Sarah Marshall), and Mammy Sally (Lynda Gravatt) who offer the grieving widow words of comfort.  In a search for answers, Mary Lincoln turns to her faith in Spiritualism a belief that Elizabeth Keckly encourages by bringing the Spiritualist medium Nettie Colburn, played by Gracie Terzian to the White House to hold a seance.  Though the medium tries she is unable to contact the spirit of President Lincoln.  Finally realizing that her husband is gone, Mary Lincoln leaves the White House to embark on her new life as the Widow Lincoln.

The Widow Lincoln is a haunting, beautiful production.  Words can not adequately describe the beauty and the power of the play.  It was chilling watching Mary in her dream world while her husband is being murdered.  The energy of Ford's Theatre and being next to the Presidential box was almost overwhelming.  This is an evening I will never forget.    

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