Monday, October 4, 2010

Abe Lincoln in Illinois by Robert Sherwood (1939)

Summary:  This play chronicles 30 early years in the life of Abraham Lincoln.  The opening scene depicts him being tutored (around high school age) and the final scene is his farewell to Illinois immediately before leaving for Washington, D.C.

This play was a little dull, but raised a number of historical "did that actually happen?" questions for me.  Lincoln's humanity is most vividly depicted early in the play when he reveals his romantic feelings to a girl named Ann...who dies a few pages later.  He later convinces himself that marrying ambitious Mary Todd is the right decision, though feelings of romance toward her are never illuminated.  Clearly, Lincoln's oratorical skills warranted exploration which results in this play having a number of long sweeping monologues, most about labor and abolition.  This is another play whose audience enjoyment would depend almost entirely on the strength of the lead actor.

The Gassner/Barnes introduction revealed a number of interesting facts about Robert Sherwood.  As a teenager, he attended Milton Academy and then Harvard, where he "survived the threat of three expulsions for youthful capers and became an active member of the Hasty Pudding Club."  Additionally, Sherwood is responsible for writing The Best Years of Our Lives which happens to be one of my most cherished movies.  Near the end of the short biography, Gassner/Barnes remark, "The rest of his career, which included conspicuous assistance to to President Roosevelt and the invaluable service in the O.W.I. belongs to political history" (306).  An interesting followup to Archibald MacLeish, it seems.

"Ran into Stephen Douglas--and we had some argument in public..."

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