On Wednesday, March 4th there was a celebration for the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address held in Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol. The event was sponsored by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation and the Illinois State Society of Washington, D.C.
It was a moving evening to be sitting in Statuary Hall which was where the House of Representatives met when Lincoln was a Congressman. There is a marker where his desk was.
I was invited by my good friend Harold Holzer who is a Lincoln Scholar and Chair of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation. He spoke of Lincoln the man and the statesman, as always when he speaks making Lincoln come alive for everyone in the audience. His latest book is Lincoln and the Press: The War for Public Opinion. Other speakers included Rodney Davis (R-IL) who represents Springfield, Il; Dr. Edna Greene Medford, Chair, Department of History, Howard University; and the Hon. Ray LaHood, former Secretary of Transportation; member of Congress and Co-Chair of the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. Before talking about Lincoln LaHood apologized to actor Stephen Lang who was there to recite Lincoln’s inaugural address, for not recognizing who he was. He told Lang that was likely the biggest mistake he has made since leaving congress. Some in the room may have thought the mistake referred to the person who now has his seat, Aaron Schrock, who is best known for decorating his Congressional office to look like a set from the TV show Downton Abbey.
Lang, a renowned and incredibly talented actor who has appeared often on TV and in many films including Avatar, did credit to the inaugural address. His voice rang out in that room as he spoke some of Lincoln’s most famous words which are the last paragraph of the address; “With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and all nations.”
It was an evening to remember and what made it extra moving was hearing those words ring out realizing just to the left of Lang as he spoke them was the statue of Rosa Parks.
If you like to laugh and feel really good when you walk out of a show then you need to see Metromaniacs at the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC). I wrote about attending a rehearsal of the play but was still blown away when I saw it on Tuesday evening. David Ives who adapted it from an obscure 1738 French play La Metromanie is just brilliant. The direction by Michael Kahn brings it to life in a way no other director could. It is not only the words but the physicality of the actors, every movement means something, and each elicits a laugh. Kahn has directed other David Ives plays at the Shakespeare including The Liar and The Heir Apparent and those who saw them will not want to miss this because they know how great the collaboration between Ives and Kahn is. David Ives said, “These three plays have been some of the most fun I have ever had in the theater”. Those who have seen them all will agree audiences feel the same.
The play is about mistaken identity and everyone being incognito at a party. They are lusting after people they have never seen and deliciously making fools of themselves in the process. The actors that Kahn chose are each perfect in their roles. Amelia Pedlow as Lucille has been at the STC before as Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and as Jessica in The Merchant of Venice. Her beauty and comedic skills shine in this production. Dina Thomas as Lisette makes her STC debut and we can only hope she will be back. She is glorious.
Some other cast members have been at the STC before and include Anthony Roach as Dorante. Dorante is the good-looking hunk who isn’t quite bright. Anthony clearly is a good-looking hunk so that part is easy but it takes a good actor to play stupid so well. Anthony leaves this production to star in Guys and Dolls at the Goodspeed Theater Company. Then there is Christian Conn as Damis. He was at the STC as Dorante in The Liar among other productions. Not much to say about Christian other than he is a superb actor and great in this role. When he is onstage you are drawn to him. He is another actor that if we are lucky will continue to grace the STC stage. Michael Goldstrom as Mondor makes his STC debut and is perfectly cast and a wonder to watch. His comedic talents are clearly evident throughout the production. Peter Kybart as Baliveau and Adam LeFEVRE as Francalou both make their STC debuts and are perfectly cast and incredibly talented. Part of the wonder of Metromaniacs is that all the actors just seem like they are having a great time.
I was fortunate to be part of a theater party that had cocktails with the cast after the show. Each and every one of them is as nice off-stage as they are great on-stage. It’s always fun to hear their thoughts on the audience and what makes a production fun for them. Without exception they all raved about being in a production directed by Kahn. The play has been extended to the middle of March so you can still get tickets at STC. Don’t miss out on this fun evening in the theater.
I hadn’t heard much about Choir Boy before friends asked me to join them at the theater. My comment after the show was WOW! This is a powerful and well-acted acted piece of theater.
David Muse, the brilliant Artistic Director of the Studio Theatre writes “The play is written by Tarell McCraney, a celebrated American Playwright who has received a prestigious MacArthur ‘genius’ fellowship. He has had his plays produced at the Studio Theater more than four times and this past August received an honorary doctorate for his body of work from the University of Warwick. The amazing thing about all this is McCraney is only 34 years old.”
Choir Boy takes place in the fictional Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys; an elite historically Black boarding school preparing young men for greatness. Pharus (acted to perfection by the very talented Jelani Alladin), struggles with his dual goals of becoming the lead in Drew’s legendary gospel choir and his need to belong. His character’s struggle plays out against the other students who are dealing with issues of faith, sexuality, legacy and race. Pharus is trying to reconcile this being gay with wanting to be accepted by the other students in the choir who do what so many young men do and call anyone who appears at all feminine unprintable names. His new roommate Anthony Justin ‘AJ’ James (acted with startling perception and feeling by Jaysen Wright) is openly and proudly heterosexual, has the best physique of all the students and is on the baseball team. But of all the boys in the choir he shares the most empathy with Pharus and is an example to everyone what it means to be a person of grace, decency and understanding.
Then there is David (Jonathan Burke) who wants to be a preacher but has to deal with his being gay as well. His interactions with Pharus are unfortunately so real that many young men trying to deal with their own sexuality in a world that still doesn’t accept being Gay may see themselves.
All in all, this is a play that needs a wide audience because it talks of the human condition. It is the story of too many boys trying to grow up in a world in which they don’t quite fit and wanting desperately to be accepted by their peers and their parents. The rest of the cast especially Keith Antone as Bobby and Eric Lockley as his sidekick Junior are wonderful. Alan Wade as Mr. Pendleton and Marty Austin Lamar as Headmaster Marrow pull the production together and share with the audience how some adults try to deal with, and not always successfully, young men trying to find themselves and reach maturity.
This is a play that makes you think and makes you want to do something to help all young people find an easier route to adulthood. That may not be possible but it leaves you wanting to try. The production has been extended through March 1. Tickets are available at Studio Theatre.