by Ann Greer
Suppose you were a brilliant Capitol Hill staffer who could make political magic happen. But one day it all became worse than meaningless, and you decided it was more worthwhile to be Abraham Lincoln, or at least pretend to be Lincoln, and quote the former President’s many phrases on how to live a meaningful life.
Brandon McCoy in Keegan Theatre's "Lincolnesque"
Keegan Theatre first staged the regional premiere of this play, “Lincolnesque” by John Strand, in 2009. The theater has reprised the production to open its 22nd season, with most of the same cast.
I was interested in “Lincolnesque” after seeing a staged reading and two full productions of another of Strand’s scripts, “The Originalist.” This play, about the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and his views on how to interpret the Constitution, just finished an Off-Broadway run, following a multi-city tour that began at Arena Stage. Strand is now working on a film adaptation of the play, along with a play on Teddy Roosevelt.
Brandon McCoy & Stan Shulman
But back to “Lincolnesque.” Speechwriter Leo (Michael Innocenti) is stressed, as he attempts to bolster his lackluster Congressman to a mid-term election win and to care for his older brother Francis (Brandon McCoy). This former star staffer now buffs office-building floors for a living while discussing strategy with his “Secretary of War,” a failed government worker who is homeless (Stan Shulman, who doubles as an unscrupulous consultant). Francis saves the day for Leo and his hard-hitting chief of staff (Susan Marie Rhea) by composing inspiring speeches for the Congressman. But in the end, Francis sabotages both himself and the election win.
Susan Marie Rhea & Michael Innocenti
Both “Lincolnesque” and “The Originalist” are layered with intriguing ideas and no easy answers. “The Originalist” is perhaps more cohesive, but there’s a lot to ponder in “Lincolnesque,” including what defines normal behavior in a crazy situation, and a cynical critique of how America elects its representatives. Strand keeps us guessing about Francis’s state of mind – is he truly psychotic, or the sanest of the bunch?
Stan Shulman & Brandon McCoy
My one regret was that I didn’t write down some of the statements made by the real Lincoln, projected on the production’s handsome set. He certainly did have a way with words.
“Lincolnesque” is playing at Keegan Theatre through October 14, 2018. Tickets: keegantheatre.com or 202-265-3767.
Photos by Cameron Whitman.
Ann Greer has covered culture in the DC region for The Washington Post, Capitol File magazine, and WAMU-FM, among others. She was the first online theater critic in the DC region, for AOL Digital City Washington.