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'Abe Lincoln in Illinois' at Seattle’s Intiman

Hans Altwies, Reginald Andre Jackson and Erik Lochtefeld in Abe Lincoln in Illinois" width="294" height="402">Seattle's Intiman Theatre presents it's latest installment to it's American Cycle series, "Abe Lincoln in Illinois" by Robert E. Sherwood.  The play, while being a little long winded at times, gives us an interesting look at one of our countries greatest figures before he became President.  A man who most of us only know from what little we learned in school.

The play centers on a man (engagingly played by Erik Lochtefeld) who starts out as an uneducated worker in the midwest and through determination and hard work (and a little help from those around him) eventually becomes the 16th President of the United States. 

That basic framework you already know.  But what you may not know is the type of man he was along the way and the path he took to get to that end.  That's what this play delves into.  It shows us inside the man who, while being very social, also didn't like people very much.  A man who had very firm and high minded ideals but had to be goaded into doing something about them.  A man who lived his life in contradictions.  Not the impression of the famous statesman most of us know.  In this regard the play works.  It's an exciting character study of a remarkable man.  And while that should ordinarily be enough, I wanted more, or better yet, I wanted less.  At nearly 3 hours, the play has a tendency to drag on a bit.  And furthermore it suffers from the problem I see with many biographical dramas, it has no place to go.  There is no engaging story to keep the viewer interested.  There is no plot, just a life.  And while it's a remarkable life, I prefer my theater with a bit more structure.

Having said that, what the play may lack in story it makes up for in outstanding performances.  The cast is made up of some of the finest performers Seattle has to offer.  And with 19 actors on stage, that's quite a bit of talent.  And it's really good to see mostly local cream of the crop up there.  Angela DiMarco gives a moving portrayal of Ann Rutledge (Lincoln's first love).  Hans Altwies (who was incredible in the Rep's recent production of "The Seafarer") is engaging and thoughtful as Joshua Speed.  And R. Hamilton Wright turns in two very different and stirring performances as Mentor Graham (Lincoln's teacher) and Stephen Douglas (of the infamous Lincoln/Douglas debates).  Add to that lovely musical interludes during the scene changes.  Most notably I have to single out John Ackermann, Matt Shimkus and Richard Nguyen Sloniker who have some beautiful solos in the songs that keep the pacing moving right along during what could be dead time on stage.

But of course, what would a show about Abraham Lincoln be without a solid performer playing the man himself.  Not to worry, we have that here.  Lochtefeld gives an amazingly well thought out and focused performance as I have seen in a long time.  The play spans over 30 years and Lochtefeld transforms the man before our eyes from one time frame to the next.  Not only does he show the change in age over time but also the very definite change in the man.  It was a pleasure to watch him convey the journey from smart aleck youth to confident orator all the while staying in the confines of such a fascinating historical figure.

With a wonderful pacing by director Sheila Daniels, beautiful (yet sparse) set by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams, and glorious music direction by Ackermann, the show manages to express the milestones of an amazing life.  Without their wonderful talents and those of the cast, the show could have felt like it lasted four score and seven years.  If you're a Lincoln or history buff, I'm sure you will find the show incredibly moving.  If not, and if you are looking for more story and less speeches, you may want to look elsewhere.

"Abe Lincoln in Illinois" plays at Seattle's Intiman Theatre through November 15th.  For more information or tickets call the Intiman box office at 206-269-1900 or visit them online at

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From This Author Jay Irwin