What Would Abraham Lincoln Do?

Lincolnesque’ Chronicles A Politician’s Inspiration

Posted June 16, 2009 at 5:13pm

It is common practice for politicians to draw on their most venerated predecessors — such as Presidents John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan — to defend policies or shape a message. The protagonist of a new play at the Keegan Theater does this in a more literal sense than dropping some quotes into a stump speech.

In “Lincolnesque,— a Congressman struggling for re-election seems to be dead in the water. But his speechwriter’s brother, Francis, convinced that he is possessed by the spirit of President Abraham Lincoln, revives the Congressman’s moribund campaign by channeling Lincoln’s wisdom into the Congressman’s public addresses.

Mark Rhea, the play’s director, said the performance has gotten “extremely positive reactions— since it opened last week, adding that its opening in the 200th anniversary year of Lincoln’s birthday has “absolutely— lent the show additional resonance.

“It’s really about peeling back the layers of a character, and this is that play,— Rhea said.

Rhea added that what he described as continuity between “Lincoln’s ideas— and President Barack Obama has made the play relevant in a way playwright John Strand could not have anticipated while he was writing it in 2006.

Strand said he read through Lincoln’s old speeches and letters to steep himself in the historical background, while also drawing on his experiences living in Washington, D.C., to create characters with realistic concerns and mannerisms. The effect is that the past and present are conjoined when the characters speak.

“Lincoln’s style in speaking and writing is so eloquent and very literary,— Strand said. “So I think that’s what I wanted to have in the dialogue in the play.—

“Lincolnesque— opening in Washington during Lincoln’s bicentennial was “kind of just happenstance,— Strand said. The play does not simply extol Lincoln’s accomplishments, he added.

“What’s interesting for me is that it’s not meant to be an elaborate praise of Lincoln in any way,— he said. “If anything, I think it’s a different approach from what we might see in other theaters.—

Still, Strand said writing “Lincolnesque— allowed him to delve into a topic that is of particular interest to him.

“It wasn’t so much a play as an indulgence because I love the history and the man,— he said.