Memoirs of Abraham Lincoln February 22, 2008
By Glen Creason
When Granville Van Dusen set out to perform a one-man show on the life of Abraham Lincoln he took on a great responsibility. Mister Lincoln is often qualified as our greatest president and one of the most interesting historical figures from any era. To do this great man justice you need to put on a polished evening of wit and wisdom with countless hours of research behind the production. This show is an obvious labor of love for Lincoln and his legacy. Expertly written by Peter Beach King and perfectly directed by Delbert Mann, the work is superbly finished by this fine acting performance. After about two minutes, Van Dusen has the audience rapt and believing he IS the great man with skills that are truly awe inspiring. Formerly known for his abundant work on the small and big screen this actor has taken a quantum leap on this show that is excellent, edifying, and very entertaining from start to finish. Even his resemblance to Mister Lincoln is uncanny as he strides about the stage in period costume with a mixture of homespun wisdom and deep thought flowing from his lips. Van Dusen/Lincoln never stops talking and rarely hesitates for almost 90, action packed minutes. It is a staggering amount of dialogue that covers every part of the Lincoln legacy, over the controversies, past the heartbreaks and suffers no fools in the process. All is dispatched with great wit and emotion, giving the audience a real feel for the man who has become a legend. It is also a wonderful history lesson for buffs or even the several kids in the audience who seemed to really respond to the Lincoln wit.
The show sets out to tell the “plain, unvarnished truth” that may explode some myths, clarify some of the misconceptions and shed much of the mountains of abuse the great man suffered in his public days. The early scenes of the performance certainly hold much of the wit of Lincoln and many examples of the great storyteller. Later on, when he deals with the causes and carnage of the Civil War the tone grows much darker. When he finished the first half with a magnificent reading of the “Gettysburg Address” it just made you finally feel those words you have read so many times but this time with goose bumps.
The second half was much more personal and emotional, dealing with the losses of his two sons and the deep love he had for the much-maligned first lady Mary Todd Lincoln. When he describes her as “an island of tranquility” you can certainly feel the deep affection he had for this woman. There is also a rather deep and detailed conversation on the hatred for slavery that Lincoln held and the Kansas-Nebraska act the eventually caused the war to rip the country in half. There is also a personal touch when Lincoln describes the misery of the prison camps and the terrible toll of 1.1 million men who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the War of the Rebellion. Van Dusen, closes the show with an eerie last scene where he heads out the door to the Ford Theater and to his death. Like many in the audience I was very sad to see him go.