Park Square Theatre to Present MARY T. & LIZZY K., 10/18-11/10
Park Square celebrates the recent Minnesota History Center exhibit honoring of the Civil War, and rides the popularity of the Steven Spielberg-Tony Kushner movie Lincoln with the Midwest Premiere of MARY T. & LIZZY K. by Tazewell Thompson from Oct 18 - Nov 10. The play, which had its world premiere in March at Arena Stage in Washington, DC, focuses on the unique business relationship and complex friendship between Mary Todd Lincoln (played by five-time Emmy Award nominee Linda Kelsey) and her free mixed-race seamstress Lizzy Keckly (played by Shà Cage in her Park Square debut, hot off her success in Clyborne Park at The Guthrie).
Both women had strong personalities, but different means of expressing them. In their own way, each represented power, strength, dominance, and determination to get what they desired. Thompson's portrayal is a refreshing counterpoint to depictions of that time period that portray women as mere background figures to men.
"I'm drawn to complex characters," admits Linda Kelsey. "Mary Todd Lincoln might be one of the most provocative, fascinating, and possibly misunderstood First Ladies in history. To many, she is thought of as little more than an unstable woman who spent too much money on clothes and furnishings for the White House. I see her as much, much more. I'm drawn to the deeper complexities of her marriage to Lincoln as well as the ways the tragedies in her life helped to not only shape but strengthen her."
Playwright Tazewell Thompson agrees. "Both of these women lived during the height of the Victorian Age; however they were exceedingly exceptional and anything but passive, submissive, pliant, dependent or circumspect. Defying the social and cultural conventions of their time with aplomb and courage, they might more aptly be called 21st century women. Mary was politically savvy, spoke French, knew Shakespeare, even insisted on being called 'Mrs. President' and viewed as an equal, not an appendage. Lizzy worked to buy her freedom from slavery, opened her own shop, had high society clients, and founded the Contraband Society to provide food, clothing, and housing for black soldiers and freed men. The two of them ran around Washington unescorted to hospital tents writing letters for wounded soldiers, reading and singing to them, providing as much aid as they could. They were feminists at a time when this was unheard of. Plus, they were best friends-the president's wife and a free black woman, and it was common knowledge that if you wanted to get to Mary, you needed to see Lizzy. Remarkable!"
Director Richard Cook's cast also features the return of Park Square favorite Stephen D'Ambrose as Lincoln and the debut of Nike Kadri as Ivy, a fictional character who plays Lizzy's student and assistant. "I love the fact that Abraham Lincoln is the cameo role - this show is really about the women," says Cook. "Once we secured the rights to produce the show - which happened even before the world premiere had opened - I started working on casting. The staff kept asking me who would direct the show and once I had these brilliant artists interested, I said 'I want to direct this!' I also love Taze's poetic treatment of strong women, which I came to appreciate in our 2006 production of his Constant Star about the life of Ida B. Wells."
Performance Schedule: Previews begin October 18 and run through October 24. Friday, October 25 is Opening Night, and the run continues through November 10. Show times are 7:30 p.m. except for Sunday performances, which begin at 2 p.m. All performances are in the company's intimate 348-seat theater in Saint Paul's historic Hamm Building, 20 W. Seventh Place.
Ticket prices: Previews: $25 and $35. Regular Run: $38 and $58. Discounts are available for seniors, those under age 30, and groups. Tickets are on sale at the Park Square box office, 20 W. Seventh Place, or by phone: 651.291.7005, (12 noon-5 p.m. Monday through Friday), or online atwww.parksquaretheatre.org.