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Abe Lincoln in Illinois big and sprawling, as impressive as the man
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Abe Lincoln in Illinois big and sprawling, as impressive as the man

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Abe Lincoln in Illinois
Intiman Theatre
Through November 15


Robert E. Sherwood won a Pulitzer Prize for drama with his 1939 play Abe Lincoln in Illinios, now being presented by Intiman Theatre. This is a big, sprawling play, spanning the years before Lincoln becomes a politician until just after he gets elected. It details his transformation from a solitary man with a let-the-neighbors-be philosophy - where he didn't like slavery, but didn't rail against it - to a full-out abolitionist. The play has over 40 characters in it, which is hard to produce in these expensive times, but Intiman succeeded in casting 19 actors to fill all those roles.

This worthy effort casts Erik Lochtefeld as Lincoln. He is outstanding in showing us Lincoln's reluctance, transformation and growth - he also has a great many words to memorize, so you should prepare yourself for a long sit. The play clocks in at about three hours, including two intermissions. The first two acts account for much of the meat of the play, with the third hopefully stirring you with several actual speeches, either by Lincoln or his political opponent Stephen Douglas (forthrightly played by R. Hamilton Wright). Depending on your interest in history, that third act might be as watchable as the first two acts, or that may be where you get bogged down.

Mary Jane Gibson plays a vigorous and driven Mary Todd Lincoln. Whether it is true or made for the play, Mary Todd dreams, as a little girl, of her husband becoming the president of the United States. It is clear that she means to make Lincoln fulfill that destiny. Later on, there is a moment where she becomes completely inappropriate "in company." This is supposed to demonstrate her mental breakdown later in life, but it's so out of context that it's just confusing.

The stage is dressed simply by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams, with scene changes accomplished with singing cowfolk swinging around chairs and coverings. Music by Gretta Harley helps to break up the evening and flavor the play. John Ackerman is the main musician on stage, and his accompaniment is very sweet.

Director Sheila Daniels harnesses all the acting power on stage and does a good job keeping the energy going. The rest of the cast is solid and the story is interesting, especially if you're not very aware of Lincoln's history or struggles. The play demonstrates that he was an orator, but doesn't really show how he got his facility for making these fancy speeches. It would be nice to have that be clearer. He was a gifted orator, as the Gettysburg Address attests.

Lincoln shows a bit of what must have been a lot of charm (to get so far) in a scene with Ann Rutledge, his first love. Lochtefeld may be more charming than Lincoln was. He is certainly a captivating character.

This is an easy way for teens to learn a little history. If you know a teen who is not booked to see it through his or her school, do think about taking the teen with you.

For more information, go to www.intiman.org or call 206-269-1900.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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