I’d like to use my space this week to talk about “Lincoln.” No, not the Steven Spielberg blockbuster that may be front-and-center at Sunday’s Oscar ceremonies, and not Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Lincoln,” now on our television screens.
This one is titled “Lincoln, the One-Man Show” and it stars Gary Saderup, which may ring a bell with people who’ve been around the theater as long as I have. You see, about 40 years ago, Gary made quite a few waves in local theatrical circles, and I was involved in some of them.
Over a period of years in the early 1970s, Gary and I did four shows together. We acted in “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and I directed him in “A Loss of Roses,” “Dear Friends” and “The Desperate Hours.” It was the latter production that showcased his ferocious dramatic ability, as Gary portrayed the leader of a trio of escaped convicts holding a suburban family hostage in their own home.
Then Gary moved on to pursue an equally immense talent as a portrait artist and we lost touch for four decades — until he contacted me about his latest project, “Lincoln.” I expressed interest and he sent me a videocassette of the show. It is, in a word, awesome.
Gary plays Abraham Lincoln from his teenage years through the Civil War and his ill-fated trip to Ford’s Theater.
Lincoln’s story opens shortly after the assassination, with Abe awakening in a sort of celestial ante room awaiting his entrance to heaven. While in that period of limbo, the inveterate storyteller chats with the audience and spins the tale of his historic life and times.
Most intriguing is his fervent opposition to slavery, instilled during his trip down the Mississippi river as a boy and witnessing a slave auction. The sight of a tearful mother being separated from her daughter stayed with Lincoln throughout his life.
In a performance inviting positive comparison to the one-man shows of Hal Holbrook, James Whitmore and James Earl Jones, Gary slips comfortably into the persona of Lincoln, adopting his folksy mannerisms and penchant for storytelling. He’s also a ringer physically, gaunt and bearded.
“I worked with the Library of Congress on the dialect, the Smithsonian and many others on costuming, and lost 28 pounds to play the part,” he said. “The movie was released in November and is available on DVD from Amazon.com, Kultur Films, barnesandnoble.com and several other outlets.”
The show covers Lincoln’s political career, including his debates over the morality of slavery with Stephen Douglas as both men vied for a Senate seat from Illinois, which Douglas won. The two men eventually became lifelong friends.
Two highlights of “Lincoln” come when Saderup recites the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address, with all the fervor driving him during the traumatic days of the Civil War. He makes it seem as emotionally involving as reading today’s headlines.
The young man that I caught in a powerful performance as Rev. Davidson in “Rain” at Golden West College more than 40 years ago, and cast opposite my then-wife Beth in William Inge’s “A Loss of Roses,” has come a long way, both as an actor and an artist. During a 37-year career in art, he’s traveled to Africa, Australia, Japan and Europe selling his sketches. I have two of them (“John Wayne” and “Marilyn Monroe”) on my bedroom wall.
Gary has played the title roles in productions of the Shakespearean tragedies “Macbeth” and “Othello,” as well as appearing as Charles Darwin.
Now he’s Abraham Lincoln in a season replete with Lincolns. One reviewer put it this way: “A sweeping epic made human, specific and immediately powerful by Saderup’s mastery of characterization, pacing and presentation.”
Amen. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater.