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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

The Heavens Are Hung in Black

Also see Susan's review of Cool Papa's Party

Historic Ford's Theatre in downtown Washington looks gorgeous following its 18-month renovation. A bright, spacious new lobby adjacent to the theater offers additional amenities including a concession stand and an enhanced gift shop, and the theater itself now boasts genuinely comfortable seats.

The theater is marking its reopening, as well as the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, with the world premiere of The Heavens Are Hung in Black, a historical drama by James Still. Unfortunately, the play doesn't live up to the surroundings; it's more like a live-action diorama than the searching psychological portrait of Lincoln it attempts to be.

Still's drama, with a cast of 17 led by David Selby as the martyred president, focuses on Lincoln's internal life during the turbulent year of 1862. Outside the White House, ineffectual General George McClellan is failing to give the Union Army the leadership it needs; inside, Lincoln is coping with the death of his 10-year-old son Willie (James Chatham) and the emotional distress of his wife Mary (Robin Moseley).

"When I don't sleep, my dreams come looking for me," says the melancholy president. As staged by Stephen Rayne on the broad expanses of Takeshi Kata's set, Lincoln imagines meeting with Confederate President Jefferson Davis (Edward James Hyland); receives visits from the ghosts of old antagonists (Hugh Nees as Stephen Douglas) and people he never met in life (Norman Aronovic as John Brown, David Emerson Toney as Dred Scott); and experiences a striking first-act curtain tableau of Union and Confederate soldiers in the shadows of the White House. Nothing in the rest of the three-act drama, which runs almost three hours, is as involving as that moment.

Bringing historical figures to life is not easy, especially when dealing with a man as thoroughly researched as Lincoln. Selby does his best with a lively portrayal of the president as a rough-hewn man with a country accent, a man who enjoys telling stories and, during an evening's walk, startles the famous Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth (Michael Kramer) during a rehearsal by showing his familiarity with the playwright's works.

Ford's Theatre
The Heavens Are Hung in Black
February 3rd March 8th
By James Still
Abraham Lincoln: David Selby
Tad Lincoln, son to Abraham Lincoln: Benjamin Cook
John Hay, personal secretary to Abraham Lincoln: Jonathan Fielding
Ward Lamon, Marshal/Billy Brown: Scott Westerman
Butler/Dred Scott/Old Black Soldier/Uncle Tom: David Emerson Toney
Walt Whitman: Michael Goodwin
Union Major/Exeter: Steven Carpenter
John Brown/Canterbury: Norman Aronovic
Mary Todd Lincoln: Robin Moseley
Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War/Stephen Douglas: Hugh Nees
William Seward, Secretary of State/Jefferson Davis: Edward James Hyland
Mrs. Winston/Young Woman: Beth Hylton
Thomas Haley/Bedford: Chaney Tullos
Young Soldier: Benjamin Schiffbauer
Willie Lincoln, son to Abraham Lincoln/Newsboy: James Chatham
Edwin Booth: Michael Kramer
Bates: Jonathan Watkins
Directed by Stephen Rayne
511 Tenth St., N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-347-4833 or www.fordstheatre.org


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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