- Divided court strikes down big porn award
- Jimmy Carter: Don’t hurt Russian people with sanctions
- Oldest ex-MLB player dies in Cuba, 2 days shy of 103rd birthday
- ‘Top Gun’ for drones: Squadrons of carrier-based killers have Navy’s approval
- Bill Clinton to endorse Charlie Rangel for re-election
- Pfc. Bradley Manning is now Pfc. Chelsea Manning: Court says so
- Secret base U.S. special forces used to train Libyans now under terrorist control: report
- 9th suspect in N.C. kidnapping turns self in to FBI
- L.A. sheriff admits to testing flyover spy program without notifying residents
- Foreign minister vows response if Russians are attacked in Ukraine
Review: ‘A Civil War Christmas’ is sweeping tale
NEW YORK (AP) - Who knew Abraham Lincoln could play the violin and accordion? In Paula Vogel’s warm, non-saccharine vision, the Lincoln character pitches in to do that and more in her sprightly, intellectual musical play, “A Civil War Christmas.”
The crazy-quilt production that opened Tuesday night at New York Theatre Workshop is a sweeping, literate and entertaining tale of intersecting spiritual myths and American history on the bitterly cold Christmas Eve of 1864.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Vogel includes racism and prejudice, yet also goodness and tolerance, as a talented ensemble of 11 nimbly sings, dances and enacts multiple characters both historical and fictional. Tina Landau’s elegiac direction integrates a multitude of events with a mixture of 19th-century music and Christmas carols.
Landau’s creative staging inform affecting vignettes and foreshadowings, as a lost little child, a grieving mother haunted by her dead son’s ghost, soldiers on both sides, would-be assassins and a president in peril (Bob Stillman, humorous yet dignified) all appear suspended within the same virtual snow globe.
Lincoln has just been re-elected, and the South has pretty much lost the war, although fighting continues. While the country remains bitterly divided, Vogel focuses on unifying themes that affect all Americans _ whether they recognize the truth or not.
The “three wise men” here are Lincoln plus two generals, Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee. Among many plot ironies, the victorious Union general Grant is presented as a drunk, while vanquished Lee of the Confederacy is seen nobly refusing to partake of privileges unavailable to his troops.
John Wilkes Booth (Sean Allan Krill, madly histrionic) is earnestly plotting to assassinate Lincoln, while Mary Todd Lincoln (a luminous, delightful Alice Ripley) is trying to tamp down her nervous outbursts while secretly tending to wounded Union soldiers. Lighter motifs include a much-coveted Christmas tree that keeps disappearing.
Karen Kandel is soul-stirringly effective as Elizabeth Keckley, a free-born African-American seamstress who’s a friend to Mrs. Lincoln. K. Todd Freeman is fiercely proud as Decatur Bronson, an angry Union sergeant whose wife Rose was stolen two years earlier by retreating Confederates.
Jonathan-David is effective in a number of roles, including a dying soldier and a whimsical turn as a horse called Silver. Rachel Spencer Stewart is determinedly brave as Silver’s 13-year-old owner, an unlucky Virginia boy who encounters some mean raiders and an even meaner Union soldier. Sumaya Bouhbal is simply adorable as the lost little girl, Jessa, and Amber Iman is striking as Jessa’s desperate mother.
The music includes folk song fragments and a drawn-out, mournful “Silent Night,” sung tremulously a capella by Ripley to a dying Jewish soldier, as if Mary Todd Lincoln hoped she could keep him alive as long as the song never ended. Then the chorus joins in, singing the Kaddish, a typical cultural mashup for Vogel.
A couple of wise, recurring sentiments reflect Vogel’s realistic optimism: “Share the gladness of your heart” and “The hope of peace may be sweeter than peace itself.” For a country still cleaved by politics nearly 150 years after the Civil War, Vogel’s focus on decency and commonalities sends a hopeful message.
TWT Video Picks
Feds who send arms against ranch families betray American values
- Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy hailed as patriot, ripped as lawless deadbeat
- CARSON: When government looks more like foe than friend
- Pentagon plans to replace flight crews with 'full-time' robots
- Georgia governor signs bill expanding gun rights
- Texas is next! AG warns BLM wants 90,000 acres after Bundy ranch standoff
- Harry Reid using tax dollars to fight Koch brothers, La. GOP chair charges
- America is an oligarchy, not a democracy or republic, university study finds
- Opposition rising to Colorado gun control laws
- Ukraine claims torture by pro-Russian forces on the heels of Biden's stern warning to Moscow
- Professor apologizes after blasting Republicans in class
Top 10 handguns in the U.S.
Celebrity deaths in 2014