‘Abe Lincoln in Illinois’ brings history to life

  • Written by Deborah Stone
It’s a wonder Abe Lincoln made it to the White House.


Photo by Chris Bennion

Erik Lochtefeld as Abe Lincoln

Beset by melancholy and in constant battle with his inner demons, the man was a poster child for depression and a host of other psychological woes. Not to mention his dirt poor roots, homely appearance and uncouth manner.

Despite all of these apparent liabilities, this humble, Kentucky backwoods boy became the 16th president of our country.

Robert E. Sherwood’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "Abe Lincoln in Illinois," which is currently gracing the stage at Intiman Theatre, does a thorough job of tracing the early life and times of our nation’s most-mythologized leader.

It spans the years in which Abe grew to assume responsibility for his conscience and his country, focusing on critical moments during his often rough and arduous road to greatness.

A man who lived much of his life in contradictions and conflict, Lincoln was a social being, but one who did not actively seek out company.

He never had a yen for the limelight, preferring the simple life of a country lawyer with his books to keep him company.

But, he grew into an American hero because those around him recognized his intellect, honesty and deep abiding concern for others. They urged him to find his voice as a man, a politician and a leader.

Eventually, Abe chose to pick up the gauntlet thrown down at him and take the path that led him to change the course of the nation.

Audiences first meet Mr. Lincoln as a young man of 24.

He’s an amiable sort, who can put others at ease with his self-deprecating humor. Yet, he’s shy with women and lacks ambition and direction in his life, reluctant to go beyond the safe confines of his small New Salem village.

Eric Lochtefeld, as Abe, gives a boldly etched performance of this famed historical figure.

Physically, he mimics Lincoln with his tall, lanky figure, sagging shoulders and awkward presence. And he capably handles the demands of this complex role through a portrayal that provides us insight into his character’s dark side.

Abe’s idiosyncrasies, his moodiness and his emotional outbursts are all here, but we are spared the melodramatics. And with a subtlety that’s commendable, Lochtefeld gives us a hint at the visionary leader that Lincoln eventually becomes.

Most memorable are his eloquent deliveries of excerpts from some of Lincoln’s well known speeches, particularly his impassioned attack on slavery during a riveting senatorial election debate with Stephen Douglas (the equally impressive R. Hamilton Wright).

Lochtefeld is surrounded by a large ensemble cast that does a solid job with a variety of supporting roles.

Noteworthy performances include Peter Dylan O’Connor as Billy Herndon, Lincoln’s Springfield law partner, Hans Altwies as Abe’s friend Josh Speed and Angela DiMarco as Lincoln’s early love, Ann Rutledge.

Kudos to Sheila Daniels for her skilled, confident direction of this epic production. And to Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams for her simple, yet stylish set design.

"Abe Lincoln in Illinois" brings history to life with compelling results. It has the power to reawaken dormant patriotism in us all.

As Daniels says, "He (Lincoln) opens the door to us as Americans to ask of ourselves who we are and who we could be."

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