Review: ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS at Berkshire Theatre Group

A powerful, timely, highly effective, and entertaining reminder of what “greatness” in democracy and politics looks like.

By: Jun. 17, 2024
Review: ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS at Berkshire Theatre Group
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Step into the life and evolution of one of America's most iconic figures in Robert E. Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS. Charting Lincoln's extraordinary journey from humble beginnings in New Salem, Illinois, to his historic inauguration as President of the United States, this play presents an intimate and stirring narrative of the man behind the legend.

Review: ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS at Berkshire Theatre Group
Brandon Dial, Corrina May
Photo: David Dashiell

This compelling three-act play offers an intimate portrayal of Lincoln's evolution, capturing Lincoln's complex character and presenting a multifaceted figure, a humble man grappling with self-doubt and haunted by premonitions of the Civil War and his own tragic fate. The play delves into Lincoln's relationships, from the selfless yet elusive Ann Rutledge to his wife, Mary, portrayed with an edge that forewarns her descent into madness. Lincoln's romances, debates with Stephen A. Douglas, and his journey to the presidency are vividly brought to life, showcasing the complexities of his character and relationships.

ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS weaves together fictional dialogue and Lincoln's own words to create a poignant portrayal of a man driven by ideas, haunted by premonitions, and destined for greatness. As the play unfolds, audiences witness the pivotal moments that shaped Lincoln's early manhood, providing compelling insight into the life of a man who would go on to become an American legend.

Review: ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS at Berkshire Theatre Group
Isadora Wolfe, Brandon Dial
Photo: Dave Dashiell

Directed by David Auburn, the piece features David Adkins as Ninian Edwards and Sturveson; Rebecca Brooksher as Ben Matting and Mary Todd; Brandon Dial as Abe Lincoln (Act 1) and Robert Lincoln; Evan Dibbs as Seth Gale, Jed, Major and Musician; Shawn Fagan as Jack Armstrong and Billy Herndon; Lynnette R. Freeman as Jasp, Elizabeth Edwards, Aggie and Crimmin; Corinna May as Nancy Green, Maid and Stephen Douglas; Robert G. McKay as Bowling Green and Abe Lincoln (Act 3); Kelli Simpkins as Mentor Grahan, Feargus, Abe Lincoln (Act 2) and Barrick; Julian Tushabe as Josh Speed, Gobey and Kavanaugh; Isadora Wolfe as Ann Rutledge and Phil; and Hanna Koczela as Understudy.   The entire ensemble is consistently strong.  To site any one individual would be a disservice. Color and gender-blind casting that might seem a bit confusing at first lead to some rather interesting and thought-provoking moments.

Abe Lincoln in Illinois was written by Robert E. Sherwood and the creative team consists of direction by David Auburn, movement direction by Isadora Wolfe, scenic design by Bill Clarke, costume design by Amanda Roberge, lighting design by Seth Reiser, sound design and music supervision by Scott Killian, dialect coaching by Jennifer Scapetis Tycer, production stage management by Pamela Edington, assistant stage management by Morgen E. Doyle, casting direction by Kelly Gillespie, CSA and Caparelliotis Casting and assistant to the director Haas Regan.

Review: ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS at Berkshire Theatre Group
Evan Dibbs, Shawn Fagan, Lynette R. Freeman
Photo: Caelan Carlough

Hesitation given the production’s three-hour run-time fell away as the production is well paced, well produced and full of both information and relevant parallels to current political scenarios.  The tendencies for comparison and contrast between similarities as well as distinct differences between perceptions and reality is almost overwhelming.  We are presented with strong references and reminders of Lincoln’s humility, and relative simplicity.  How the nation’s 16th President was not making a power grab, but faced with a political system based on the principle that all men are created equal as well as the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness seemed to have lost its way; was compelled by the notion that a house divided cannot stand and committed to the difficult and revolutionary course correction was required to achieve a more perfect union. One of the people, for the people, and by the people.  It serves as a powerful, timely, highly effective, and entertaining reminder, or perhaps an appropriate overdue lesson as to what “greatness” in democracy and politics looks er uh looked like.

ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS continues at Berkshire Theatre Group’s Unicorn Theatre 6 East Street, Stockbridge, MA through July 14. 




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