'Lincoln' worth the investment

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By Larry Goffinet

With the U.S. economy still officially in a recession, many people are looking for entertainment bargains.

Some may not think a night out that costs $40 per person is a great deal, but if it is a professionally done play with an Emmy-award winning actor and also includes a delicious meal — all at a location less than 25 miles from Tell City — that sounds pretty good.

Such is the deal one can get on a play about the life of Abraham Lincoln, running nightly except Mondays through Aug. 15 at the amphitheater in Lincoln State Park in Lincoln City, where Lincoln grew up (he lived there from age 7 to 21).

This new play captures more than just his boyhood, though. It includes scenes from his presidency about the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.

But it shows several examples of how events from his Indiana days affected his presidential view of slavery.

Those include meeting a slave named Moses when Lincoln was operating his ferry service (rowing passengers and cargo out to steamboats that were headed down the Ohio River) near Troy and seeing slaves being sold when he made his flatboat trip to New Orleans.

Lincoln did more than any politician to end slavery and had more empathy for African Americans than any white politician until Robert Kennedy came along 100 years later.

But the play does not portray Lincoln as a saint, as school history books used to do. It clearly points out that his Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the rebel states (slaves from areas that did not join the Confederacy were not freed until the ratification of the U.S. Constitution's 13th Amendment Dec. 6, 1865 — eight months after Lincoln died).

The play also points out that besides wanting to help the slaves, Lincoln had pragmatic reasons for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. In a discussion with his Cabinet members, Lincoln mentions that not having slave labor to produce food and uniforms could severely handicap the Confederate Army.

It's been a while since I read a complete biography of Lincoln, but as far as I could remember the play was historically accurate in every detail, including showing Lincoln's sitting in an upholstered rocking chair when he was killed (the owner of Ford's Theater had the rocker brought into the president's box to make Lincoln more comfortable). This is definitely no "Hoosiers," a movie that was only very loosely based on an actual Indiana event.

Geoffrey Wade, who has guest-starred on network television dramas "ER," "Monk," "Scrubs," "Law & Order" and "Brothers & Sisters," is excellent as President Lincoln, perfectly capturing his folksy mannerisms.

With the makeup and fake beard, Wade also looks very much like Lincoln except for being somewhat shorter. In the scene where Lincoln leaves Springfield, Ill., for Washington, D.C., another actor towers over Wade. During his life virtually no one towered over the 6-foot-4 Lincoln.

Nikkieli DeMone, who won an Emmy for his TV appearance on "Magic Door," is excellent as the slave Moses and Frederick Douglass (many actors play more than one role in the production).

Instead of presenting Lincoln's life chronologically, the play presents quick flashbacks of various scenes that shaped his life. The fast pace should appeal to the MTV generation's short attention spans.

And though not actually a musical, the play does include a few songs, including the whole cast's singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," Lincoln's favorite, at the end.

In short, the play has something for nearly everyone.

Show time is at 7:30 each evening. Serving for the meal, which is catered by the Black Buggy of Evansville and includes the type of food that Lincoln probably ate during his days in this area (fried chicken, turkey and mashed potatoes) starts at 5:30 p.m.